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I don't "get" art (vice.com)
316 points by flaviojuvenal on June 18, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 259 comments

I'm not going to deny that there's a lot of crappy art out there. However, this article is such bullshit that I suspect the writer is just trolling.

For those who are nodding along with this article, consider the Obfuscated C contest: http://www.ioccc.org/

That's art. But it's art that most people in the world can't begin to appreciate. You need years of coding experience to really get it. You need context. When hackers sit down and study those works of art, they're not just posing.

A lot of modern art is like that. I look and scratch my head. If I go with a friend who understands the context, they can explain to me the history: movement Z is a reaction to Y, which in turn is a reaction to X. The artist is grappling with themes A and B, and exploring materials C, D, and E.

Many of us can do similar analysis with video games. Look at the Upgrade Complete series, which is a fun set of commentary on games at the same time it's a fun game. Look at the rise of the 8-bit look and sound that harks back to an earlier era. To an outsider, the 8-bit stuff could just seem like shitty graphics, but to many insiders it's awesome and nostalgic and charming. That's art.

Of course, Kongregate and GameStop are both full of shitty games. It'd be easy to write an article like this one, condemning all videos games as crap. But I and many other HN readers are willing to wade through the crap because when you find the gems, they're real works of art. Art requiring context to really understand.

I think modern art is what happens when your "understanding art" circuits get into a feedback loop of some kind, there's something going haywire in there. Modern art is the mental equivalent of an allergic reaction. So we get these famous artists who made things like big canvases of entirely purple, and we say it's art because art critics sneezed out a bunch of reasons why it's art.

Laypeople look at Rothko and wonder why a guy who made rectangle blobs on canvas is better than all the other guys who thought of making rectangle blobs on canvas. And then you wonder what's the point? The point of art is, depending on your philosophy, variously to improve the mind or the spirit or to provide aesthetic pleasure; it's not to satisfy the intellectual pretentions of art nerds. The obfuscated C contest is a difficult intellectual pursuit and this wouldn't be hard to understand to someone who doesn't know C, but it is hard to explain how Rothko's rectangle blobs or Pollock's scribbles improve the human condition more than anyone else's blobs or scribbles except that these artists happened to fall in the right confluent streams of intellectual nonsense at the right time. The obfuscated C contest is not a thing where you say, "my five-year-old can do that", or that any other Joe could do that should he rub the intellectual establishment the right way. But we live in a world where we take stuff anyone can do and put it in a museum because it has some neat context behind it or something. And so the layperson is completely nonplussed.

By "like big canvases of entirely purple", you're probably referring to Yves Klein, who I think is actually a bad example for what you're getting at. Klein was interested in a kind of total, pure experience of color. He worked with a paint chemist to create an especially vibrant blue color ("International Klein Blue") which, to a pre-television era, would have actually been quite mesmerizing. Klein was also a legitimately fascinating and eccentric character who I think would interest anybody that studied him.

I have a rule about art. It doesn't have to be everybody's rule; it's just mine.

If the artist creates something that he would want for himself, for his own living space, even if he knew that nobody else would ever get to see it, I'll accept that it's art, even if I can't stand it. If the artist is working on commission, the rule applies to whoever commissioned it. If it's something he would want for himself for his private island hermitage, okay, it's his art. Different people have different tastes, and this is his. And I'm fine with edge cases such as making things such as children's art under the sincere belief that he would have wanted it for himself if he were a child. I'm not trying for a legalistic definition, just a general principle that, to be real art, it has to satisfy the artist's personal esthetic desires in the complete absence of social payoffs such as statement making, money, being the center of attention in order to feel more significant, trying to build a reputation, etc.

If it would be something he would want for himself--a vibrant blue canvas in a color the artist finds mesmerizing, for example--then I consider it art even if he intends to sell it, get attention, build a reputation, etc.

I doubt most modern art could pass this test. I think most of it is just cynical manipulation of the pathetic and pretentious by the narcissistic and manipulative. If the artist wouldn't have any interest in it in the absence of an audience, it's just a product.

Of course, I can't know for sure what the artist's motivations were for a piece, but that doesn't matter. My definition of fraud doesn't require me to be able to spot it.

When M Duchamp put a urinal on display in an art museum it made a novel point that we perceive quotidian things differently just because they're in an art gallery.

When [help me here] "installed" a live donkey "to symbolise his inability to come up with a good idea" that's piss.

That said there is plenty of excellent modern art. If you live in/near a wealthy city, this is easily verified.

living on a street with 8 contemporary art galleries I can say that 90% of contemporary art sucks. It's just like startups, 90% of them fail. But people who love startups or art keep making more regardless.

I think a lot of the irritating attitude is the support of people who all do the same thing. Same way when your friend makes a new web app you're not going to say it sucks even if it does because (a) they're your friend and (b) you are going to want moral support for your next web app at some point.

what city?

I don't know, people make lots of things they want in their houses for purely practical reasons. Does that really make them art?

I guess you are only applying this rule in a negative way - if people DON'T want what they produce then it's not art to you?

Almost right. It goes both ways. I'm not talking about making things in general. I'm talking about things you make as art (or craft, I suppose, where part of the design is chosen based on your own esthetic preferences.) If you design it in a way that satisfies your own esthetic desires--it's art that you would enjoy for yourself--then it's your art, even if I don't like it, and even if it will end up going to someone else or bringing you fame and fortune.

But if it's not something you'd ever want yourself but, for example, you made it as a vehicle to gain notoriety or money, then it's not art, as far as I'm concerned. I don't owe your childish demand for attention or $20,000 "statement about capitalist oppression" any reverence just because you claim it's art.

I don't know man, I probably wouldn't even want forks (picking something of "obvious" utility) in my house if I were the ONLY one in the world who knew about them. What would guests think? That I'm some kind of weird food-impaler, maybe a closet Sadist. If people didn't use forks, choosing to have forks wouldn't be a foregone conclusion at all. Even all by myself.

You entirely undervalue the social context of objects, including objets d'art.

> You entirely undervalue the social context of objects, including objets d'art.

A lot of people might value something because it goes against the grain of social and cultural context. Those things might be more interesting or provoke different thoughts or perspectives.

That's the thing with totally out there, nutbar work. Usually there's a story that makes it all make sense, in relative terms.

A lot of artists strive very hard to produce something new which is, at its essence, nearly impossible. The distance you have to go to get somewhere uncharted is vast indeed.

If people think art is easy they should struggle to create some themselves. It will take years to be able to produce something that isn't immediately recognizable as either too unrefined for serious consideration, too obviously derivative, or so done to death it's a cliche.

Please read the above comment again. And again.

It captures the essence of the struggling artist, and their perhaps seemingly mediocre output, better than anything else I've ever read before.

Also keep in mind that when people look at art, they're often placing the artist somewhere along this path into the uncharted; appreciating their struggle and being curious about where they will move next.

> I think modern art is

I think what you are describing is "art I don't really see the merit of". Modern art - as understood by most people - encompasses Van Gough through Matisse, Hockney through Warhol.

Is the work of Dali an "allergic reaction"? How about Roy Lichtenstein? How about Jackson Pollock? How about Tracey Emin? Where do you draw the line here?

If you draw the line at the point where you stop seeing the artistic merit, and if you start defining art from that purely subjective view point, you're surely missing out. What about artists who fall just past the line where you see the artistic merit? Is it possible you just don't understand that work? Will you start to define art as purely mechanical skill? If not, where will you define it?

I leave you with: https://xkcd.com/793/

If you label everything as art, and there is no distinction between art and non-art, then what do you communicate or understand by applying the label?

That's an interesting and excellent question, strawman though it is. The thread you're replying to is an exploration of "Can you distinguish between art and non-art purely via the subjective merit and appreciation of the result?". But the question you're (really) asking is: "Given an attempt to define art, can that definition be widened to include everything, rendering it useless?"

I'm not trying to construct a straw man, I'm trying to talk about the lay of the land. If I have a beef it is with the irrational, undisciplined, non-illuminating, petty dullness of the whole argument.

Because in the many times I have seen this argument, it always seems to go the same way. There is a Philistine sneering at some boring or obscure objects, and there is an angry Defender of Art who treads a fine line between (on one hand) a bland modern schoolteacher's orthodoxy which says nothing can be excluded and (on the other hand) a haughty attitude that the boring object is really better than some other boring objects - you know, to those with REAL discernment - and that the Philistine probably loves airbrush art and Thomas Kinkade and the pre-Raphaelites (hee hee hee). There is a huge dogpile of smug people on the Philistine, whose populist persecution complex is encouraged. The Defender (who often enough is just an undergraduate with a little art history or a 35mm camera), is just fueling the Philistine, and the Philistine is fueling the Defender, and so on forever.

If I am bothered by any specific art, it is the pieces which use yet another random object to draw out this same discussion we have been having for over 50 years.

I don't really object to a totally stoned view of the world where everything is interesting period, and maybe it really is useless to talk about art. That seems to me at least consistent, and not a perpetuation of the same crummy drama used to endlessly propagate the modern orthodoxy. On the other hand, if someone wants to actually try excluding something from art then that also provides a starting point for an actual discussion of some kind.

A little off-topic, but why is your xkcd link using ssl? Really curious, since I didn't think xkcd ever exposed https links, can't see any reason for it, and not sure how you got it.

Did you add the "s" manually, for, I dunno, the sake of art ;) ?

I'm using a browser extension called HTTPS Everywhere, as a direct result of Firesheep.

And that's why I dislike "art" - because too often the only thing that makes something art is a label. Without it, it would be a skippable youtube video. His comment about the photo of a woman sitting in a chair is spot on. Nobody would give it five seconds if it was in somebody's summer collection, because it does look like a boring holiday photo. The article's author may have cherry picked, but it's true that art lacks fundamental safeguards against crap. If you have a reputation, you can post almost everything in the art thread.

I value aesthetics more than art. It's much better defined. Not everything that looks nice is an art, but in worst case you're left with something that looks nice ;-).

There are only two hard things in Art: critic invalidation and naming things.

> value aesthetics more than art. (...) something that looks nice

"Aestethics" doesn't really require anything to look good.

Personally, I think LMFAO[1] and Robyn[2] looks absolutely terrible. But that tickles some part of my brain, and I enjoy the aestethics of it, in all it's uglyness.

[1] http://www.starsentertainment.com/media/articles/images/l/m/...

[2] http://plusmen.blogspot.se/2011/06/rye-rye-never-will-be-min...

The OP point was not about art being mere satisfaction for art nerds, but that there may be an effort to appreciate it. That's true of most art forms. It just happens that which effort depends partly on the person. It seems that for some reason, people are put off by what's around modern and contemporary art (the social aspects of people participating in it, etc…). Nothing prevents you from going beyond that, appreciate what you like, and expand your taste to new things.

The whole "my five year old can do that" argument is a bit tired. That's similar to the arguments that music using electronics is not art, etc… By itself, why should the amount of efforts necessary to produce something matter at all ? Besides, a lots of people engaging in "garbage looking art" were actually very skilled from a traditional POV, but went a way where they would not use it conventionally. Note also that similar issues arise for older art forms: it is fair to say that most people are put off by classic zen gardens (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryōan-ji). There is much less social proof at work there, and yet, couldn't you make the same argument about them ? Would you dismiss them as easily ?

Regarding Rothko or Klein, some people really like his art, without claiming to be particularly knowledgeable about art. Don't forget also that the famous stuff is generally a limited period of an artist production. Rothko did not just pain rectangles, Pollock dripping period was relatively short, etc...


Except Rothko was a lousy artist before he hit on the black on black rectangle thing. A study of his development as an artist shows somebody who is almost talent free.

I think the point is that much of modern art is so self referential that it has become almost devoid of any sort of external meaning. This is easy to observe. Sit for a few hours in the modern art wing of your local free public museum and observe as the man on the street barely holds back snickers and gafaws at the absurdity of some of the work.

I'm reminded of a tour through the Vatican art collection, perhaps one of the finest in the world. The crowds were bunched around some of the great statuary and paintings (even ones they didn't formerly know). Near the end of the tour, the viewer is thrust into the modern art collection. The crowds suddenly stop bunching and most people can't wait to get through it.

This seems on its face backwards. What should be more relevant to the modern viewer, statues of a dead religion in a language nobody natively speaks or religious art made by their peers and contemporaries?

"Except Rothko was a lousy artist before he hit on the black on black rectangle thing. A study of his development as an artist shows somebody who is almost talent free."

I accept that you think he was almost talentless, but he wasn't. I think he was a great talent long before he became well known for the typical rothko stuff, and it wasn't just talent in the modern sense but also in the craft sense, when he was a figurative painter especially of new york scenes (try googling his painting of the new york subway).

Your anecdote about the vatican collection is a good one. But it doesn't mean that modern art is worthless, or even suggest that it is.

There's a lot of subtlety in rothko's brushwork that most people don't pick up on. Really they're large, complex pictures but on a different level from most painting. I saw about 20 of his paintings in the turner/rothko exhibition in London about three years ago, and seeing them in a space that suits them brings out their impressive quality, and it became hard to see them as "just rectangles" or however you want to put it.

Sorry this is going to be long, but I'm going to try and explain my...perhaps provincial and unfair...way of thinking about Rothko...

First off, there is some truly great modern art being produced these days. I really think it has to do with the maturing of modern art as a field (see #2 below). Some of the recent Russian surrealists are producing astonishing stuff and there is some absolutely wonderful, delicate, sculpture art coming out of Japan in the last 20 years.

Something I've tried to do when helping my friends to try and appreciate modern art is to explain it in two ways:

1) It's important to understand a work of art as part of a continuum of the artist's individual work. I usually use Picasso as a frame of reference. He started off with a fairly traditional style, some really great stuff, and at a young age. He had a genuine interest and talent for the field. Ciencia y Caridad and even La Salchichona are quite good stuff. So when you look at Picasso through his career, and the transition into his later forms, you can generally see the progression and how he arrived where he did.

2) It's important to understand a work of art given the confluence of history and the actions/reactions of artists. Major shifts in art styles are quite often a reaction to a perceived dead-end to an older form. An older form may have evolved to the point that there simply is nothing more that can be said with this form...it's become an intolerable box of so many arbitrary rules that everybody's work ends up like everybody else's work. To jump out of the box might mean inventing a new form or new direction. Often works of art that are near the beginning of an immature style seem simple, silly or even childish. But those produced as the style matures can end up as quite wonderful. I find the music world provides several great examples of this happening, Classical music (e.g. Mozart) was as much a response to the cruft that had built up around Baroque (e.g. Bach) as anything. A more modern take might be minimalism. One of my favorite composers in the style is Steve Reich. His early stuff I can take or leave, endless experiments with phase and looped recordings blah blah. But some of his later stuff is sublime. Minimalism had matured sufficiently during his own lifetime that it went from screwing around with the interesting rhythms that appear when two pianos play the same phrase slightly out of phase...to intense, layered tapestries of sound that can fill a concert hall.

Try as I might, I can't seem to apply either of these very successfully to Rothko without ending up cynical. If I go with approach #1, I can't seem to come up with a narrative that shows a steady progression. Instead it seems like he simply bounced around from fad to fad, selecting whatever was fashionable at the time that seemed both impenetrable to the layman and required as little effort as possible on his part to paint. His responses to criticisms are usually layers of indecipherable Yoda-like nonsense. He didn't start as an artist very young, and after he did decide to take it up (in his 20s I think!) he didn't really seem to make a serious go at it. He did the equivalent of taking a couple of correspondence classes and hanging around with the currently fashionable crowd. When fashion changed (e.g. Salvador Dali's triumphant shows), Rothko simply switched to a hack tale on whatever was drawing the crowds. It doesn't seem to be a man driven by an insatiable passion to find his own voice. There just doesn't seem to be any sort of recognizable innovation in his work arguably until he starts painting big monotone rectangles. But that's like saying framing a paint sample the last time I painted my living room is "innovative".

Applying #2 is almost as bad. He seemed to be more of a hanger-on to the fashionable club of the day. In startup-ese, he seemed to pivot to the best selling, least effort fad of the year. "What's fashionable this year? Moderne or Abstract Expressionism? Which is easier? Abstract Expressionism it is! I can crank out like 20-30 of these puppies a day!" There's no real progression from his subway figure paintings to his surrealist period to his abstract expressionist period. He just bounces from one to the other. Art appreciation commentators and textbooks try and retrofit this into a narrative of him "stripping away the unnecessary" or "simplifying his work" but it seems like he just came full circle, from somebody who wasn't ever particularly interested in art, and didn't want to put much effort into it, into somebody who just couldn't be bothered in the end. He doesn't seem to fit in as part of the evolution of art since he bounces around between movements (but with the same hamfisted lack of polish or style) and doesn't evolve with them and he definitely doesn't appear to set a direction for the art world to follow in it's next evolving step.

Other than volume (why bother naming them, I'll do colors, then numbers for a while, but then I'll get bored and just not bother) there just doesn't seem to be any skill or point to his work. And there's nothing wrong with that, but we call those kinds of folks "house painters" not "artists". The East wall in my dining room doesn't need a title either.

(full disclosure, I've seen Rothko's work at the National Gallery in the specially constructed Tower exhibit, at the Leeum's small but really well curated modern art collection (though I don't think they displayed his works as well as they could have), the MoMA (of course), the Guggenheim in NYC and Venice, and I think the Musee D'art Moderne in Paris and have really tried to get with it w/r to his body of work including reading a biography about him at some point and watching a documentary about his life)

Sure, art is subject to personal taste, and I'm not saying that anybody is wrong in liking his stuff, it's just that I end up decidedly not enjoying his work and always leave with a cynical taste in my mouth no matter how open minded I go in. But as always with art, it's up to the individual to interpret and enjoy the art. Here's somebody who obviously does http://fuckyeahmarkrothko.tumblr.com/

Fantastic comment.

That's the perspective from which I think it's totally legitimate to say: this is shitty art. Not the initial, "I don't get it so it must be crap" reaction. But trying to see so deeply into it that you can see the fraud or the idiocy.

That is why I really love Banksy in general, and especially Exit Through the Gift Shop. He has such a keen nose for fraud and pretense.

Right. When I see a Rothko in a gallery I know pretty much immediately it's one of his before I walk up to the info card. And my immediate gut reaction is usually one of incredulity. But like most modern art you have to try and learn about the context of the piece to appreciate it. And the more I dive into the context around his work the less I like it.

I generally like Banksy too. At first glance I like the aesthetic, and then when pondering a work, I enjoy the satire, symbolism, the cultural references and imagery.

And even if the final work is made in a few moments, I know that he spent time, perhaps hundreds of hours building out the stencil set, planning the piece, choosing a subject, etc. for the final image.

Contemporaries for sure, but probably not peers. The world that created that art is far removed from the world of the visitors. Art has its bubbles too.

Here's an example: http://forum.deviantart.com/devart/suggestions/1745568/

I'm sure 99% of HN knows about J/K navigation and appreciates when websites implement it. But it's unknown outside the world of software development.

There's a bubble at ConceptArt.org, CGSociety, and every other place where people gather to talk about something. Art bubbles and tech bubbles have a similar problem: convincing people in other bubbles that what you value has value. The art in the article makes more sense when you see it as the product of a bubble. You would need to peer inside the bubble with a guidebook to know what you're looking at.

But I think there's another term for these bubbles, "echo chamber". They exist in every shared activity if no new input is brought in to keep the family from getting incestuous. The more I think about the concept of the "meme" as an analogue to genes, the more I see parallels.

The old statues are more relevant to many people because it is so amazing that they have been preserved and it gives them a window into old things, and because old things achieve a sort of special-object status especially in connection with religion (relics...) Moreover, the old things have already been through ruthless filtering, and the things which remain tend to have more inherent interest than the average recently-created thing.

They are beautiful too, in the classical sense, and beauty in the classical, natural sense is the most well-established and accessible kind in art.

That last bit makes perfect sense to me. Look at science or math. What's more comprehensible to the modern layman: something that we learned decades to centuries ago? Or work that's being published this month?

If you go to a general-interest science museum, they mainly cover science's greatest hist of yesteryear.


Not saying "some five year olds can do that" or even that the argument is ever meaningful. Just a cute video.

Too bad she'll either die of the chemicals or spend the rest of her life hiding from the fame of the past while trying to define herself, or worst, spend the rest of her life trying to retrieve the joy and vision of her former self.

Who decides what is "the point of art"?

If you don't know the story behind obfuscated C, but only look at the code listing as art, then many people would say "my five-year-old can do that", since it just looks like a bunch of random characters.

It is totally fine not to like art, and not wanting to invest time in understanding it. But there is a difference between not understanding something and proclaiming it "humbug" because you dont understand it.

Though I agree that modern art is mostly pointless, I actually have prints by Rothko and Pollock. I've dashed through countless modern art museums around the world, but there are a few artists and styles that consistently make me stop and stare. I can't explain why I like these works. I didn't know nor care about the artists' background or philosophy. I didn't buy it to impress anyone or make myself look artsy. Oddly, I don't like most other color field art. I don't even like Rothko's darker work. There's something about his big bright color fields that appeals to me. Is that art?

I don't know if it is art. I have nice wallpaper and I look at nice advertisements. Are they art?


Actually, a lot of modern art IS intellectual games; not spirit or aesthetics. Look at the readymades of Marcel Duchamp (early 20th century). And these intellectual games apply to modern literature and music as well.

Many people broke down and cried when looking at Rothko works. Certainly it doesn't have that effect on me (mild boredom), but you dismiss their effects to easily.

There are ideas, notions, feelings, etc. that cannot be adequately expressed through statements alone.

Hence, art.

This statement is meaningless as is and I think if you were to make it precise you would find it ridiculous.

What's wrong with saying that there are some things better expressed in mediums other than text?

This is a more precise statement, but you have replaced “art” with “other mediums than text”. Is literature not art?

I think you're nitpicking pointlessly here. Rather than seeking interpretations that you can be snide and cranky about, seek interpretations that make sense.

Literature is art, but literature isn't just a bucket of statements. Indeed, plenty of interesting literature makes use of things that aren't plain statements. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveller, for example. Its title alone isn't a proper statement, and the book plays with that kind of incompleteness throughout.

The statement version of the book might be something like, "Incomplete statements can be interesting." But that's not art.

I don’t see an interpretation that makes sense. In fact, I don’t think there is one. I guess you define a “statement” to be a complete sentence, judging by “its title alone isn’t a proper statement”, but titles are rarely statements anyway and the actual contents of the novel, I am sure, are full sentences. We need to use more precise language, instead of hiding behind vague terms like “statements”, if we hope to evaluate the argument.

I am not nitpicking. I honestly don’t think any sense can be made from leot’s statement. If I am wrong, I invite you to refine it in a way that makes sense. Your earlier refinement (text is not the best medium for every message) makes sense, but the point is that art is not defined as “mediums other than text”, and therefore it isn’t relevant to the previous discussion about art.

Another (less lyrical) way of phrasing it might be:

"P1: There exists X in the set of (ideas, notions, feelings, etc.) s.t. X cannot be expressed as a combination of statements.

Humans get around P1 by using more than mere statements to express themselves. The consequences of their doing so might be called 'art'."

The word "statement", as opposed to "phrase" or "sentence", was used to draw a distinction between mere statements about facts-of-the-matter and literature. The implication was that "statements" are things like "the sky is blue" or "war is bad", from which semantics can be derived through syntax and the grounding of referents. In other words, I'm implying, here, that "literature" is not a simple collection of statements.

But regardless of the status of literature, i.e., even if literature were a mere collection of statements, are you claiming that every feeling, notion, idea (etc.) that can be expressed† can, in fact, be expressed via text/words/phrases? In other words, are you claiming that (a) language can express everything felt, thought, experienced? Or, alternatively, are you claiming (b) that no non-linguistic medium of expression can express that which is inexpressible by language?

†I'd use "communicated", but I fear someone might take the position that "communicate" only has a technical information-theoretic definition.

I thought he was was drawing a distinction between literal communication and evocation of experience and feeling. E.g., "war is bad" vs Guernica. I take it as linked in that I saw it as an argument for a broad understanding of art. E.g., if a big purple square of Rothko's is evocative, it's still worthwhile art even though any reasonable translation of it to unpoetic statements of it is either null or dull to the point of idiocy.

Therefore, books and literature aren't art, since they express ideas, notions and feelings with nothing but words. Wait, what?

They do so using metaphor, simile, plot and character, but very rarely direct argument. Remembrance of Things Past is not the same as "nostalgia is powerful."

That is not a valid deduction from what leot said.

But what's really going to bake your noodle later: Is it more sophisticated to have broad acceptance of contemporary art or to call out bad attempts at art that are relying on your need to feel sophisticated for acceptance?

Problem is, you need to have a good understanding of contemporary art before you are able to call out bad attempts.

And modern art tends to presuppose that the viewer has the necessary context, often neglecting the aesthetic hook.

What separates Rothko and Pollock from the artists in the link is that other people have tried to capture what they captured, and failed. I never got it until I finally saw other rectangle blobs and other paint drippings. There is at least something there to be felt.

Tracey Emin, on the other hand, is nothing more than a name, as demonstrated by this masterpiece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Nicholas_Serota_Makes_an_Ac...

Obligatory references:

If it needs a long sermon to proclaim it's art, it's probably bullshit [1]

Modern Art - A Skeptical View [2]

[1] http://www3.sympatico.ca/manideli/Artsp.htm

[2] http://www3.sympatico.ca/manideli/

Are you saying that true art needs to be immediately understandable without requiring some background knowledge? This is not true for e.g renaissance art either. It usually uses a host of obscure (to modern people) symbols to communicate.

Obscurity, as a general rule, is not a virtue in itself.

Consider books of Stanisław Lem and Gene Wolfe. You could say both are difficult to read science-fiction. Both use sophisticated language and long, intricate sentences. After reading several books by each author, I came to this conclusion: - Lem's books are difficult, but you're getting something out of them. They are thought-provoking, make you see the world or things they refer to in a different light, or contain things no one thought(or described in a book) before. - Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun"((I read all of it and it wasn't my first Wolfe's book) is difficult for the sake of being difficult. They are references you are not going to get if you are not an euridite. The book is designed for erudites. It's still enjoyable to a point and the vision of the world is interesting. Yet I can't help but notice that almost all references in that book are hollow. They don't serve any purpose. Many characters in the book are named after saints. So what ? Nothing. Some stories characters tell to each other resemble other stories, from Greek myths and whatnot. So what ? Nothing. It's just a reference. The world is thousands years old, and it may be a distorted story from the past. Or maybe not. A quote from wikipedia: "for example, a backyard full of morning glories is an intentional foreshadowing of events in Free Live Free, but is only apparent to a reader with a horticultural background".

Having a feeling that I didn't catch everything I went to several message boards dedicated to Gene Wolfe's books. Surely they can explain what's so great about these books. But they fail to convince me. They keep blabbering about how Severian is an unreliable narrator (there are a few instances of this, but they're not easy to spot). So what ? Nothing. It doesn't change anything in the book, at best it adds another "what if". Severian is a slimy character willing to lie if it benefits him. Move on.

Gene Wolfe's books are huge collections of references which make reader feel warm and fuzzy inside for getting them. If you meet someone who likes his books, it's because they make him feel special and superior. Not because of a great story, action, thought provoking ideas or very memorable characters. Additionally, the books are a big wildcard. They are deliberately kept very vague and appeal to conspiracy theorists. They could be interpreted in any way you wish.

So there you have it - background knowledge. It can be very easily used - and often is - to woo the public because it makes them feel special and superior. When you explain it away, does it make the work more interesting (like Obfuscated C) or you don't care (like Gene Wolfe's morning glories) ?

I think what you're describing here is more a problem with Gene Wolfe message boards than with Gene Wolfe's writing. They (or at least the ones I've run into) seem to delight in exploring the super-obscure details that show how clever they are, while ignoring the broad strokes which are the meat of the stories. Wolfe's books are these great symphonies working on multiple levels, and these boards focus on finding the Easter eggs.

I'm not going to tell you you're wrong not to like Wolfe. His is a very particular style, and I know people whose literary judgement is at least as good as mine who do not like it.

For my taste, though, taking an intriguing setting, telling a vivid story in it, and not spelling out all the answers is about as thought-provoking as literature comes. I won't pretend I can tell you exactly what happens at the end of the Wizard Knight or the Soldier series, but I can tell you that I've deeply enjoyed rereading them, and plan to continue doing so every few years for the rest of my life, and the mysteries make it more appealing to me, not less.

I wouldn't say I don't like it - but I think it's overblown. The Book of the New Sun has very interesting atmosphere and bits with a lot of flavor (alzabo, the introduction of Dorcas). Plus he actually managed to paint a convincing image of a very, very, very old world where you can't even dig in the ground without finding some bits of history. And my interpretation is that "Urth" is actually an evolved name of "Earth". I also read a couple of stories in similar way. It was quite amusing that in a play featuring the creation of Earth, an autarch appeared on day 1. It's almost as if the society can't imagine a world without one.

But the writing is really dry, some parts longer than they need to be, and majority of characters not memorable. I liked Jonas and the encounter with the mad autarch.

Overall, I would rate it 3.5-4 out of 5. It would be a great read if it was a bit more condensed.

As for the boards, they reminded me of the hunt for the fifth replicant among Blade Runner fans. The script was changed and the scene with one replicant was removed, but dialogue still mentioned 5 replicants. The speculations were batshit insane, until Ridley Scott simply said it was an error in the script.

Wolfe does have interesting ideas sometimes. The first book about Latro was fun in a perverse way. A character who completely forgets what he saw yesterday - yet he always found something new to say about his companions. They are shown in different light as they travel. It sure beats Terry Pratchett introducing the Librarian in exactly the same way for the 20th time. At one point the necromancer (in the classical sense) casts a spell and permanently changes to a woman. Aside from a journal entry for one day, Latro never notices. And how could he ?

Well, by saying you don't like Wolfe you are just stating a personal preference. The fact that you have found a very specific reason for your dislike doesn't any in way invalidate Wolfe's authorship or his readers as much as it further illuminates your own way of thinking.

In fact, in one sense your explanation is painfully ironic, as you seem to consider yourself morally superior to those readers who -- you claim -- read Wolfe for entirely superficial reasons. Are we really stooping so low now as to criticize people for their reading tastes or to second-guess their reasons for reading what they do?

Personally I derive as much pleasure from reading Wolfe as I do from Lem, although I would never compare them. And the key word is "pleasure": I, like I suppose most people, read books to enjoy them. I enjoy Wolfe for many reasons, but "moreal superiority" is not one of them. And I am wary of terms such as "literary significance" to guide my tastes; that's a term for scholars and academics to worry about, as a reader I am concerned with books and stories that affect me emotionally and stimulate me intellectually.

I see your point about Wolfe's complexity being more of a device and less about genuine depth. Despite this, I do enjoy the richness it imparts on the narrative. Wolfe's template is Borges, who uses similar devices and whose stories often have a sort of insular quality where the narrative only exists to create a clever gadget whose cleverness can be admired, but cannot be applied to anything outside itself. For example, Borges has a neat story, The House of Asterion, about a lonely person who roams a large house with many corridors; at the end of the story is killed, and we realize that he's the minotaur in the myth about Theseus.

As for The New Sun, I think that Severian's unreliability is more a ruse (or at best evidence of a flawed character) than an important plot point -- compare this to his Latro trilogy, set in ancient Greece, where the main character, having suffered brain damage, is unable to form new memories, and is therefore genuinely unreliable. The Short Sun also has a character who loses his sense of identity when his mind is merged with another's, and his lack of reliability comes from an inability or refusal to recognize who he actually is.

(Incidentally, while I admire The New Sun greatly, I found its two loose sequels, The Long Sun and The Short Sun, to be much more emotionally stimulating. It helps that the main characters are not borderline sociopaths. They are also less prone to the kind of cryptic connections that are evident in the first book.)

I can't help but think of the Postmodernism Generator ( http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/ ).

That makes very good sense. The problem is, a lot of us have been to modern art museums, where you'd think that next to every piece there would be an explanation as to the X, Y, Z, A & B that you mentioned. But there never is. So why is that?

You must admit, it's not a crazy idea that they are being intentionally opaque because the decision of what art is "great" and what is "crap" is not being chosen out of merit, but by the whims of an insider few. Is it really so hard to believe that the artists who are considered "hot" right now are just better at working over these insiders who pick the winners and losers?

Some museums will have didactic plaques, or large wall didactics, especially for thematic shows. But for well known artists, or major works, these panels don't make sense. They mean so many things to so different people, that it would be presumptuous to try to pin down a meaning in a few sentences. The panel would leave out more than it could include.

Well...then they can get a bigger plaque.

Remember I'm responding to the person above who was saying there was a very straight-forward explanation and way to understand art based on X, Y, Z, A & B. If that explanation is so straight-forward, they can probably fit it in a couple of paragraphs.

Regardless, I think saying "well its reeeeally complicated, so we're just not going to explain ourselves at all" is pretty indefensible.

The plaques also get in the way of a viewer's own response to the work. Pretty soon people are reading their way through the museum.

Also, for most contemporary art, there is not even a critical consensus about the work. Most artists hate to describe what their work is about. They might say what experience inspired them to make the piece, or the feeling they had when they were making it, if you're lucky and caught an unguarded moment. And there would be as many reactions to the piece as critics who wrote about it. It's a losing game.

It's OK to want it, I'm just mentioning some of the barriers to it ever happening.

> Pretty soon people are reading their way through the museum.

Yes. Yes that's exactly what I want to do. I want to spend a day at the museum, and read, i.e. learn, why some things are important and great art, and others aren't.

> for most contemporary art, there is not even a critical consensus about the work.

What? Then how is any decision made as to what art is featured in these exhibits, and what isn't? Remember, for every piece in one of these exhibits, there are 10 artists getting behind on rent who didn't make it in. Someone decides. Who? How?

If you're trying to counter my current argument, which is that this is all arbitrary and picked by some insiders at their whim, you should be aware that you're actually kind of helping my case here...

About my motivation: My wife shows her work and curates shows in the LA area. Consequently for the last 20 years I've spent a lot of time in galleries and museums. I was just trying to get across some of the thinking of the curators who decide what to put on the plaques. Not trying to get into an argument, particularly.

About "no critical consensus": Saying there's not consensus about meaning, doesn't mean curators don't know if there's value in the work.

Lots of times people know work is good, they just don't agree on why. It takes time to figure out whether it's a dead end or not, or to see where the artist goes with a line of work.

Here's another one: there's lots of work that is loved by even sophisticated collectors, but unliked by artists. (E.g.: large-scale paintings that "look like art" but are not new.) There's lots of work that is liked by curators, but not by many artists or collectors (e.g., work grounded in complex theories).

"arbitrary and picked by some insiders at their whim":

The artistic community operates outside your judgement and scorn. Go in expecting to learn something, and maybe you will.

I travelled across the US and visited a lot of modern art galleries on the way (historical art galleries all look the same...). I have no background in art, and I have never been able to figure out those plaques. In the end, I learned to utterly ignore the plaques until I was done observing the piece, and then I'd maybe read the plaque to maybe shed more light. Often the plaque could be misleading.

Two examples here. The first was a plaque describing half a painting as being painted black for whatever reason. Sure, given the painting, if you stood back about 20 meters, it looked black. But from only a few meters, it was clearly a mottled purple and black. How can I trust the interpretation of the curator if they can't even get the colour correct?

The other example was another artist who took a number of photos of beachgoers, in such a way that most of them had a single person and a vast expanse of sand or water. The blurbs said 'exploring the loneliness blah blah'. Only problem was, the people in the photos were clearly enjoying themselves (one photo of a group of people 'looking off behind as if in fear' had the four folks looking back laughing). Add in to this that in my country, having a beach to yourself is bliss. In this case, the curator wasn't wrong - the plaques were describing what the photographer meant to capture. The context was that the photos were taken just after the 9/11 attacks and it was what he was feeling - isolation and loneliness. But I couldn't make those photos match that context.

So, lesson learned: experience art for yourself, then see if the artist or curator has anything which might add to the experience.

If the artist intended to express loneliness, but instead gave most people a feeling of "hey look at those happy people on a beach", then that wasn't good art that was ruined by a plaque. It was just bad art.

> The plaques also get in the way of a viewer's own response to the work

That might not be a bad thing if the response is: "That's garbage", which is my response to most "art".

So we have to understand the context of modern art, but you're opposed to museums explaining the context of modern art in an accessible way?

I went to the MOMA recently, and one piece was literally a piece of cardboard with some silver spray paint and a few holes in it. My response was, "I could have done that. There's no art to it." That and many other pieces could have benefitted from an explanation. I see no problem with people "reading their way" through a museum. I did that at the Met, because I was curious about the background to many of the paintings I saw. (Which, by the way, I was in awe of.)

There is a large branch of modern art, "conceptual art", which is precisely dedicated to making art of anything, just a concept. Typical examples are ordinary objects, sometimes not even transformed (for instance, a water bottle on a column). It can be traced back to the 1917 "ready-mades". There, the art is in the intention of the artist and nothing else. Sometimes you may feel cheated. Sometimes, it's brilliant. That's art. Like for everything else, 90% of it is simply mediocre.

I expect that whatever shows up in the MOMA to be the 10%. Further, the "intention of the artist" is completely lost if there is no explanation, and the work is shown in a gallery without context. Something has to give.

The stuff that shows up in the MOMA is surely the top 10% for some audience; otherwise a curator wouldn't have bothered with it.

If you're expecting that it should also be in your top 10%, well, then you have created yourself an expectation. If eventually that stops being fun, there are other things you can do.

> I expect that whatever shows up in the MOMA to be the 10%.

Fair enough.

> Further, the "intention of the artist" is completely lost if there is no explanation, and the work is shown in a gallery without context.

However, some of the strongest form of art today (prehistoric cave painting) have lost all of their context and hope of being understood. I think we can manage without any explanation most of the time.

OT, and tardy to boot, but your comment reminds me of the only song I know about cave painting, "The Caves of Altamira", by Steely Dan:


"Before the Fall, when they wrote it on the wall, and there wasn't even any Hollywood..."

Prehistoric cave paintings have an anthropological interest outside of just their artistic interest. I'm much more interested in those as a scientist than as I am about someone trying to appreciate art.

This is exactly the point where the art starts disappearing up its own butthole, absolved of any and all responsibility to speak for itself ("if you don't appreciate it then you're lacking context") while at the same time completely independent of context by definition.

I don't believe there's a straightforward way to understand art. Sorry if I misled you. That XYZABC bit is generally the summary of a lot of discussion, with explanations custom-crafted for me.

If you want to understand it, go take an art history class. Then you'll have the attention of somebody whose job it is to explain basic art concepts to you. That's not the job of anybody at a typical gallery or art opening.

So to go back to your original post: you get a quick summary from your friend, and that's sufficient to "get" art, but I have to spend three months going to an art history class?

Give me a break.

Also, I can't believe the top post for this article is by someone who, a little further down one of the threads, basically said "eh, actually I take it all back".

I said no such thing. The point of my post is that understanding a lot of art requires context. I gave two examples of the kind of art people here appreciate perfectly well. I also said that contemporary art is often mysterious to me, and described what happens when I go with friends who do have the context. I did not say I fully get the artwork then. What I do have is have some notion of why people appreciate it.

I at no point said, "Gosh, you can understand all art easily after 3 sentences of explanation". Which you should have gotten by analogy; a layman can't get one of the IOCCC entries after a short explanation, and a non-gamer won't really appreciate Upgrade Complete if it's the first game they've ever played. They can get that there's something to get, but they can't possibly fully understand a work in context until they understand the context.

This isn't that complicated. From your original post: > If I go with a friend who understands the context, they can explain to me the history

Either your friend's explanation improved your experience at that museum/gallery, in which case I say "Put it on a plaque", or it didn't because our understanding of art can't be improved by any kind of brief explanation and really you need to "take an art history class" as you directed us to do. So which is it?

My conclusion is this: if including any kind of explanation --short, long, anything-- can improve the average person's experience at a museum or gallery, then they should do so. The fact that they don't makes a lot of people skeptical about the entire thing, which is a shame.

A few minutes of dialog doesn't fit on any sort of plaque. It's interactive, personal, situational.

Also, I didn't say that a plaque-sized bite of text can't improve things. What I'm saying is that you won't necessarily get a work after reading one. Try it yourself. Take one of the IOCCC works and try writing a short paragraph that will explain it to the general-audience viewer.

And I didn't tell everybody to take an art history class. I told you to take one. Because then your arrogant, entitled-to-be-spoon-fed attitude might possibly be appropriate when you're actually paying somebody to educate you.

Modern art museums are not somehow legally obligated to make you happy. (Neither, for that matter, am I.) If you don't like the way museums are run, you have a problem. If you want to understand the art, you can go put in the time like everybody else did.

Sure, I can do some IOCCC entries.

* This entry is an entire flight simulator/3d demo/fractal generator/graphical chess program in like a quarter of a page! Wow!

There, I've already covered most of the entries in a very easy explanation. Oh, and a lot of them put the source code into a cutesy shape or substitute out normal "C" words to confuse the reader. It's easy to point out features like that too.

* The C language lets you list word replacements to apply to your program before turning it into machine code. For example you can turn every "NEXT" into "start_printer(); feed_page(); shutdown_printer();". It's a great timesaver. You can also use it to say 'dump this entire file here' and centralize code that's used a lot. This entry has hundreds of replacements and does that entire-file-inclusion over and over. It uses tricky methods with all this replacement to pre-calculate the answer to a math problem before it's even turned into machine code. So the actual machine code ends up doing zero computation before outputting the answer.

* This program was being cute. Normally it's tricky to write a program that prints its own source code, because it's like making a sentence that contains itself. But turns out that some compilers will turn a blank file into machine code that does nothing. And doing nothing means you get a blank file for output. They changed the rules after that.

The last example is like a good example about modern art. It makes a point and pokes fun at the rules but you can only make so many clever observations about any particular thing. Almost every winning IOCCC entry has a legitimate purpose. And you can explain the purpose. Even though explaining the joke will never be as funny as natively understanding it. In art, explaining the purpose (even if it's something simplistic like capturing a scene) can expose those pieces of 'art' that have nothing to them (like the ones made by people with too much superglue and a desire to be 'shocking').

Also upgrade complete lays bare its jokey demeanor in the first couple seconds of menu, before you even reach any references or old-school graphics. You may not fully 'appreciate' the game but you can certainly understand and enjoy it without being a gamer.

Right. I agree that one can put text next to art explaining something about it, and you have demonstrated it well.

However, starship was upset that the plaques weren't sufficient to make him get the artwork as a novice. I think you'd agree that explaining each work fully is impractical; there's just too much context that's relevant.

I got the impression that he was complaining about the exhibits that have no explanatory plaque at all, not even a paragraph.

Art is undeniably faddish, and there is definitely a political element; I wouldn't want to deny that.

However, that's sort of like going to a natural history museum and expecting to see the whole ursine evolutionary history and ecology explained next to every bear. There will be a little plaque with the basics, but the typical viewer knows a lot of the basics and is a repeat visitor, so they are expected to learn these things over time.

These days I'm perfectly happy to bring up Wikipedia when at a museum.

In the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, they have a tree ring from what might be the oldest tree ever found. Next to that gigantic slice of wood on the wall is...a giant plaque. The plaque describes in detail how measuring the life of a tree from tree rings works, as well as the history behind that particular tree and when it was cut down.

In fact, as I recall, there was such a plaque next to almost every exhibit in the entire museum.

Imagine this. You read a novel and really enjoy it, interpreting some facet of the work as X. Later in an interview, the author suggests (or says outright) that the facet was actually Y ≠ X. That facet=Y would worsen the novel for you.

You go back to the novel and reread all relevant passages. You decide that not only is facet=X an internally consistent interpretation within the canonical text, but that facet=Y would lead to a contradiction. (Hey, authors are fallible and don't necessarily imagine non-contradictory worlds.)

So what is the "ontological" status of the interpretation where facet=X and the interpretation where facet=Y? Throw in that possibly either the author's intention isn't easily described in extant words, or that the author had no specific intention regarding `facet`, or otherwise multiple conflicting interpretations can still claim validity. Maybe the authors, artists, musicians are smartest to let audience members enjoy the work for their own personal reasons, without ruining a perfectly fine interpretation some individual takes.

Ahem. 'Scuse me, while I kiss this guy.

Dude, honestly I think you are the one who is probably trolling. I can explain what's nice about ioccc codes to non-programmers easily enough to catch their attention - there's something real going on there. Upgrade Complete is an enjoyable game on its own right, even if you did not know the satire. You seriously think (that other people think) that Kongregate games are shitty and require historical references to begin to appreciate? Think again.

If someone tries, he can inject enough meaning to any artform using historical context, including this http://www.viceland.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/img_85...

But the point is that art should not be confused with history.

Art is history. You can't avoid it.

Artists grow up seeing art. They learn the techniques of the previous generation. But then they strike out on their own, doing something new. They spend decades exploring, growing, and changing.

I do seriously think that there are a lot of video games that are totally unapproachable unless you've played a lot of other video games. Try it sometime: take somebody who doesn't play games and sit them down with some top games. The amount you have to explain is incredible. To somebody here I can say "tower defense with shooter elements and a complicated skill tree". For a non-gamer, that's a ton to figure out; without coaching they'll just poke at it for a bit and walk away. But that's ok, because the audience isn't the non-gamer.

And then there are the games that are full of cultural references or in jokes. Upgrade Complete may be mildly enjoyable on its own, but the reason it gets such a high rating is the brilliant play with the many tropes and ideas of modern video games.

That's art. And contemporary art is generally like that but more so. Video games have to function as games, but art can be what it wants.

I'll bite...I know very little about art, but I'm willing to be educated. So tell me, by what criteria does one distinguish modern art from garbage?

Taking your Obfuscated C contests as an example, even if the source files look like gibberish to your average citizen (or average programmer), you could at least explain why it's special. And it wouldn't be that hard to see, for anyone, why creating a winning entry takes a lot of technical skill and creativity and that not just anyone could do it.

Whether you like a work is a purely subjective experience. There's no Art Guy In The Sky handing out ribbons. It's up to each of us to decide what we like and don't like.

Having said that, the best way to learn to appreciate visual art is to learn to sketch. You don't have to become Leonardo, but simple observational drawing is a great way to train your eye and brain to see better and as a side benefit you will understand a lot of the language of art better.

Not the only way by any means. Reading art history, looking at paintings from different periods, reading articles on art theory can get you going too. Talk to other people about the stuff they like; especially the stuff that puzzles you. Don't automatically assume that they are "faking it" or "being pretentious", though they may; people are people. But if a lot of people are interested in something, there's often something worthwhile there.

If none of that appeals to you, and you just want a simple, visual experience, look at art, admire the stuff you like and ignore the stuff that leaves you cold. Looking at art is a lot like listening to music. It can be a deep, technical experience, or a simple, enjoyable way to pass time.

>It's up to each of us to decide what we like and don't like.

Is that really true? Because there seems to be an implicit hierarchy of art. It isn't all subjective, otherwise art critics would be out of work.

>Having said that, the best way to learn to appreciate visual art is to learn to sketch.

I'm not knocking visual art, in general. I'm a terrible painter, so I can certainly appreciate the tremendous skill and talent it requires to create a masterpieces. What I'm referring to is art that seems to be art, only because other say it's art. In the article, there's a photograph of a woman sitting in a lawn chair. Why is that art and a random photo of me doing the same thing, not?

There are hierarchies in any kind of communal human activity. Art's not special in this sense. You can choose to participate or not. And it's certainly not a single hierarchy. Take your pick, if you feel so inclined.

My reaction upon seeing something like the lawn chair piece would not be to automatically reject, but instead it would be an increase in curiosity. Why is that woman sitting in the chair? Why is it happening in this venue? Why should I care? An artist is usually trying to evoke a response of some kind. WTF is a perfectly good response to get someone's attention. From most artists point of view, the worst possible reaction is indifference.

If I have any criticism about modern art is that the ideas often really aren't that new anymore; the vein has been mined pretty extensively. Doesn't mean the art isn't any good, or that it has nothing to say, just that the term "modern" has simply become another label for particularly type of movement that doesn't connect with its original meaning.

Languages change too ...

Labels, like "art" are human conventions. They are useful in the sense that they can communicate or convince. If you feel good about not calling a work "art", rejoice. But don't be surprised when other people who dig deeper might occasionally find something of note.

Duke Ellington: "If it sounds good, it is good."

Sculpture professor whose class I modelled for: "Most people are going to completely ignore your work [that you spent weeks on, had your ego destroyed by peer criticism, fixed, put your soul into, etc] -- or look at it for about three seconds before moving on. If you can hold their attention longer -- if you can make them pause for an extra five seconds, and notice, or feel something, then you've succeeded." (He said this to students, not pre-acclaimed people whose work you're supposed to like because it has their name attached.)

Relatedly: If you can enrol in an art class (eg basic figurative drawing) it's a great growth experience. You'll also see what I saw: many levels of skill, an array of typical growth-paths, how artists are trained to conceive of their compositions (or of the human body), how very skilled kids can create something accurate-in-detail but totally uninteresting, and so on.

What's the difference between hearing a bunch of squealing and noise and ugly chords (=jazz) as a kid versus knowing how to play horn and wondering how jazz greats composed the atoms they did? (eg "abrupt, dramatic use of silence" by Thelonious Monk -- "how can you abruptly PAUSE?" you say) -- how a human might develop to the point (other than pure trolling) that they conceive of that composition. Not to mention a lot of technical details like what's easy/hard to do with a brush/chalk/charcoal/yarn/limestone/camera.

Certainly some people play games with an open-minded (=gullible), trusting audience (of potential buyers). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0NIs1fOkQg There's still plenty of great, subtle modern art that a 10-year-old would not appreciate but a 40-year-old could.

Related: the jazz educator David Baker has described the progression of learning jazz to first, joining together big, pre-made pieces; then, joining together small pieces; finally (as a master) joining together atoms.

I think something equivalent could be said for programming (journey from modifying a script that already works to understanding the atoms of the language) and there's some close-enough statement that could be made for painting / visual art. The journey from imitation to atom-by-atom originality.

That's really interesting. It sounds similar to the shu-ha-ri model of learning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shu_ha_ri

If I tell someone those things about the Obfuscated C entries, they still won't be able to tell a good one from a bad one. Different judges will rank different entries differently. Even if judges agree, it's possible that other people will think the judges wrong.

Other kinds of art are no different. Heck, most interesting things are no different. Try listing criteria to distinguish a good programming language from a bad one and see how many people you can get to agree with you.

I'll check it out.

Coincidentally I watched two docs recently that touch on the topic of what "modern art". "Exit through the Gift Shop" and "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?", both were pretty good.

I think that there's a difference between art today and art a hundred and fifty years ago and I think that it's deeper than you suspect. In the Middle Ages, scholars believed that beauty was representational. They believed that something was beautiful exactly to the degree it represented (religious) truth. The more one depicted virtue in art, the more beautiful that art was, and effective representation was just one aspect of that virtue. The purpose of art was to make this virtue more accessible to the common people.

Fast forward to the beginnings of modern art and what we have is people like Monet and Van Gogh who demonstrate that aesthetics are necessarily tied to photo-realism. This leads to an eventual explosion is aesthetic experimentation, much of who's purpose was not any expression of the 'truth' but rather experimentation for experimentation's sake. As time goes on, the art community develops a tight feedback loop which ultimately leaves behind the idea of clarity in favor of novelty and ultimately forgets about accessibility which used to be one of arts most important attributes.

Art as experimentation isn't a bad thing, but it's an attitude that is radically different from that only a century and a half ago. People of a conservative bent often miss the old attitude and you'll notice that when the Right-Wing governments of the 30's took over, the first thing they did was resurrect it. (Ironically, the Soviet Union also did this.)

"movement Z is a reaction to Y, which in turn is a reaction to X. The artist is grappling with themes A and B, and exploring materials C, D, and E."

I don't want to see reactions. I don't want to see an artist grappling with themes. I don't want to see an artist exploring new materials.

I want to see a master displaying his work that exemplifies concrete themes and ideas. In other words, I would like to see defined, finished works as opposed to ambiguous, ill refined quasi-ideas.

Maybe that's just me.

Ok. Then that's the kind of art you like. I think where people go wrong is confusing "art I like and art I don't" with "art and not art".

I also like masterworks, but I'm just as interested in the human process that produces the art.

Imagine if someone took programs written for the Obfuscated C contest and boxed them up for sale to the general public. Art that is "movement Z is a reaction to Y, which in turn is a reaction to X" might be fine for artists to circulate amongst themselves, but the problem is that it is sold to people who have no such insider knowledge, yet like to pretend it is somehow relevant to them.

I'm not sure this is true. It seems to me that people who don't have insider knowledge end up with stuff they like -- they aren't lining up to pay $350k for something they don't like or understand. Ironically, they're probably ending up happier than some collectors trying to speculate who end up with the B.S.

On the other hand, collectors who are rich, dedicated, and informed are a huge component of the total money spent on modern art, and are big players (iconic example: the Guggenheims). They can end up having a tremendous influence on the art world.

Bottom line: don't feel sorry for art collectors. And if you collect art, buy what you like! Not what people tell you you ought to like!

Another good example: Peter Norton, of Norton Utilities, has been a very influential collector. He's probably one of the hundred or so most prominent private collectors of contemporary art.

If you're saying that people sometimes buy stuff for reasons other than truly appreciating it, sure, I'm not going to disagree. But that's not just true about art; it's an endemic problem with humans buying things.

Indeed, I worry less about it with art than most other things. Most art I've seen is produced by people who are sincere about it. Their art may be bad, or at least not my thing, but they're not going to spend a month making something without meaning to them.

I think most of the real scams in the art world are at the very high end. E.g., I think Damien Hirst is a marketing genius and a weak artist. Chihuly too. But if you're going to drop $10k-$10m on a piece of art, I'm just going to have to trust that you know what you're doing.

Of course he's trolling! It's Vice magazine. How does nobody seem to get this?

Perhaps you could explain the context? In most magazines articles are meant to be taken at face value, so if Vice is up to something else it would be pretty easy for people not to know that.

Vice is the hipster's bible, or it would be if they weren't all so meta-contrarian.

Their stock in trade is irony piled upon irony forever.

It can perhaps best be summarised by this scene from Nathan Barley, a comedy about a magazine which is basically Vice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLAm21GwfXw

Primarily the last bit.

I dunno, man. The bullshit ratio has gone up dramatically since the modern notion of "artist" has emerged.

"It is not that the public has failed art; it is art which has failed the public."

The obfuscated C contest is very explicitly by and for C programmers - the layman isn't expected to know about it, much less have a positive opinion of it.

Who's expecting the layman to have an understanding and a positive opinion of everything that turns up in museums and galleries? Not the artists or the curators, surely.

If anything, the only problem I see here is the reverse: Laymen are expecting that all those things should be instantly accessible to them with no work.

The obfuscated C contest is what it is. The contest isn't describing itself as about art and I imagine that almost none of the participants are even thinking about art. That's not even what it's about. What is the point in calling it art?

If we could prove that da Vinci wasn't thinking about art when he painted the Mona Lisa, but instead just about creating something great in a medium he loved, then would we have to remove the painting from the art museum in which it resides?

My point in calling it art is that I think it's art. And that it's a kind of art that readers here are equipped to appreciate because they are steeped in the history and practice of the medium. My hope being that people will then draw the analogy between that and kinds of art they don't have the context for. E.g., cutting-edge contemporary art.

The pursuit of obfuscation for its own sake indisputably makes it art IMO.

True art is the Underhanded C contest


Agree. Perhaps Tracey Emin herself is trolling, who knows. But ∃x⊂A | Sx ↛ ∀x⊆A Sx. (S is for Sucks.)

>>A lot of modern art is like that.

As much as I would like to agree with you, but, no, it isn't.

Incredibly well said. I'm beginning to think he is a troll as well.

There's a lot of truth in what you said but there is also the other side of that, which is disturbingly real, which is a bunch of yuppies looking at weird shit and playing along with the game because they were told it was classy and artistic. A prime example of this can be seen in the film 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. It's a documentary about Banksy, the street artist, or at least it started out that way. Basically, this French immigrant to LA, Thierry Guetta was obsessed with street art, banksy, and filming his every waking moment. He went on a journey to find Banksy, did it, and then was kind of mentored by some in the street art scene.

At the end of the film Guetta himself is having this enormous underground art exhibit and famous people like Brad Pitt come! But Guetta is not an artist. It is obvious that he's posing. To say he's emulating his heroes is putting it very nicely. The guy is literally going around an abandoned warehouse throwing strange shit together for the sake of it being strange, calling it art, and then people eat it up going so far as to say he's a genius.

The point is, there was no context. It was strange for strange's sake but it got labelled as art. Everyone is an artist. We all have the ability to be creative and make our own art. That cannot be debated. But what can is how much of it really deserves recognition and what criteria does a work of art have to possess before we can hang it in a gallery and say "that's real art"? For me, real art has a message, it has skill, it is intentional, and the artist puts a genuine piece of themselves into it that you can just really sense. But I digress...

I highly recommend the film, it used to be on Netflix. I think it's a perfect compliment to this article.


This is a good example. That's why only time can tell apart the real art from posing art. A piece of art is like a finding in science, the value of it is defined by its influence in the history going forward.

> For me, real art has a message, it has skill, it is intentional, and the artist puts a genuine piece of themselves into it that you can just really sense.

This is exactly right, in my opinion.

There is obviously a continuum from 'bad' to 'good' art. If this is no obvious display of skill, then it is going to be towards the 'bad' end, no matter how much justification you try to slap on to it. A painting of a bowl of fruit, even when done with considerable skill, can also be bad if there is no message.

>I'm not going to deny that there's a lot of crappy art out there. However, this article is such bullshit that I suspect the writer is just trolling.

Can we not accept people having different views than us (and quite reasonable ones at that) without bringing up the BS notion of "trolling"?

Trolling is what 15 year olds do at 4chan, not what a normal, adult, blogger does in an extended post with various examples and arguments.

>That's art. But it's art that most people in the world can't begin to appreciate. You need years of coding experience to really get it. You need context. When hackers sit down and study those works of art, they're not just posing. A lot of modern art is like that.

No. The obfuscated C contest is more akin to traditionalist art. It's not conceptual and it needs serious chops. It's just that the presentation of it is twisted (so, more like Dali, or Archiboldo, etc...).

If you believe adults don't troll with complicated pieces, you probably don't get Tracy Emin.

While I wish I was trolling you right now, I am being serious.

I suspect the writer is just trolling

Is an article in Vice magazine. Their raison d'être is cultural trolling. I tend to like a lot of their articles, but you have to remember that they are a free magazine with a shit ton of very expensive advertising that feeds on controversy in an attempt to appear relevant to the rich bright young things that they try to court.

This is the same magazine that ran a review of the drug adderall by mailing some to a Canadian farmer and asking him how much work he managed to get done while high. - http://www.vice.com/read/farmer-v12n4 - They are not the most serious of people.

The percentage of art qua art that is bullshit pretension simply used as a signalling device for an in-crowd of self-congratulatory people is not 100%.

But it's also not 0%.

Fortunately, I don't need to care. The art qua art crowd are welcome to their signalling parties and occasional strokes of insight, and I'm welcome to think the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really rather artistic, and by and large we two need not even cross paths to growl and yip at each other like two little teacup poodles viciously defending their turf on the matter of whose definition of art is correct. Viva la freedom.

I never got art until I started doing it myself. The internalization of the creative and technical processes of it are, IMO, crucial to "getting" it.

And like one might expect, I still only really "get" art that has a close enough analog to the work I do. So... sculpture? Right out.

And like others have brought up, art is contextual. One fundamental fallacy I see people make is that all pieces of work need to be conceptually complete and self-contained. A lot of good art can only be appreciated in aggregate.

FWIW, I don't "get" any of the art in the article either, save for the photograph of the woman. It's important to know that for photography geeks, it's often not about the subject, but rather about geometry, tonality, color, and more abstract notions. After all, there's a huge genre of photography dedicated to the everyday and the banal, whose only real claim to anything is beauty in composition and light.

As with all art though, there are territories that are incredibly facile, and therefore tend to be heavy-handed. Pictures of kissing couples, that "ring in a book with the shadow of a heart" thing wedding people use all the time, portraits of the homeless, etc etc. Stuff that's conceptually and technically been done to death, and IMO makes the artist appear more self-absorbed than anything else. Likewise, my gut reaction to the "money against the vagina" shot is "how obvious and ham-fisted", but that's just me. It's a me-too "exploration" of a topic that's been explored to death, without adding anything new to the concept or discourse.

In general, if you want art that you might find personal connection in, look at artists without an ego the size of the moon, and run far, far away from ones that do.

"run far, far away from ones that do."

Like Picasso, Dali, Caravaggio and Michelangelo?

Spot on. As much as I dislike arrogant people, some of them are competent. A huge ego is not a good indicator if someone is competent or not. I can endure someone like Dali, because he made works I find very pleasant to look at.

Well said. One of the first sculptures I was really moved by was by Antony Gormley. You should have a peek at his work if you want to dig some sculpture.

Just googled him, and even though a lot of his stuff seems "modern" or "abstract" or whatever, it doesn't look like totally random crap that anyone could have thrown together. I can appreciate abstract art that is open to interpretation, but a lot of "art" nowadays is not even that. It's just...it's like a bunch of people sitting around trying to one-up one another with weirder and weirder band names, but they never actually form any bands and none of them play any instruments.

"After all, there's a huge genre of photography dedicated to the everyday and the banal, whose only real claim to anything is beauty in composition and light."

Yes, but I think the major difference between this and most modern artists that you'll find in galleries and museums is that photographers are far more likely to admit that their work is nothing but beauty in composition and light, without piling on claims of symbolic meaning or attributing some abstract concept.

I'm mostly indifferent to the work of most modern installation artists; it's the self-importance of it all that I bristle at.

But we also need to understand the struggle of those modern artists. They don't want to do just "composition and light" because they deem that kind of work as designing. And they didn't go to art school to learn to be a designer. I tend to believe that most of them are still failing, but maybe sometime somewhere someone could achieve something beyond just design.

I knew my wife was the woman for me when we visited the Tate Modern on our first date and both walked out after 30 minutes agreeing that it's all garbage. [and went to Greenwich park and observatory which is awesome]

Art is the ultimate example of social proof at work. Another great one is wine. I live in the Bordeaux winelands and the only difference between Premier Cru wines like Chateau Margaux at $400 a bottle and equally great non-premier cru wines is that everyone believes that Premier Cru is the best.

I believe modern art (which I am not into) suffers from an anti-intellectual approach anytime the subject pops-up in my circle of technical friends.

On the other hand I went to an art school for a year and met a lot of incredibly elitist wanna be into Klein and the like that would never show up in history of arts class where they could have learned why some weird paintings were important stepstones in art (but they were capable of admiring the piece for two hours in the museum, go figure).

Well... Let's get back in 1863, France for a little thought experiment: s/Tate\ Modern/Salon\ des\ refusés/ s/Greenwich park/Jardin\ du\ Luxembourg/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_d%C3%A9jeuner_sur_l%27herbe That was a huge scandal at that time, people were screaming their children could draw better (yes, already in those times). Although a lot of social proof is going on as well it advanced art and few are calling it garbage nowadays.

To be clear I enjoy observatories much more than painting exhibition :)

Note: I think this wikipedia article lacks some important pieces of information and doesn't go very deep into the anlysis of that painting.

>> I knew my wife was the woman for me when we visited the Tate Modern on our first date and both walked out after 30 minutes agreeing that it's all garbage.

Appropriately, I remember "trash on floor" being one of the exhibits (second floor, I believe, just prior to the video montage of a gentleman's penis).

My SO and I promised ourselves to give an honest shot at trying to grok the exhibits in Tate Modern, but this set was the final straw for us: http://www.flickr.com/photos/appelogen/5179792842/

What's wrong with that exactly? It looks like a fine painting, though quite unoriginal.

There is definitely a "snobbery of philistines" who want to not understand modern art because it isn't about pretty pictures. Making pretty pictures has been outdated in the 1840 by photography, and it's been nearly 100 years since Duchamps presented his "fountain".

If you like pretty pictures, there are people painting dolphins jumping in front of a full moon. Is that what you call art?

What's wrong with a wallpaper sampler? There are lots of neat colors and patterns in there too.

I don't understand how you can call out snobbery at the same time that you equate painting from life with dolphins jumping in front of a full moon, and imply that photography made life painting completely obsolete.

> What's wrong with a wallpaper sampler? There are lots of neat colors and patterns in there too.

Yes, but it lacks the artist's purpose.

> I don't understand how you can call out snobbery at the same time that you equate painting from life with dolphins jumping in front of a full moon

Sorry about that; I fell prey to my own intellectual snobbery :)

> and imply that photography made life painting completely obsolete.

Photography made art as an imitation of reality obsolete, at least.

For those who haven't seen the caption below the painting in shrikant's link:

"The vertical strips in his paintings may relate to certain traditions that present God and man as a single beam of light. The name Adam, which in Old Testament was given to the first man, derives from the Hebrew word adamah (earth), but is also close to adom (red) and dam (blood). The relationship between brown and red in this painting may therefore symbolise man's intimacy with the earth."

I shit you not.

Try d'Yquem.

I revisited the Tate Modern recently and a lot of the permanent exhibits are less bullshit than they used to be.

Video Of Naked Guy Punching Himself In The Face Repeatedly While His Genitals Wibble Back And Forth, for instance, has been put away.

Awww. That sounds like it speaks directly to all the people who wish artists spent more time getting punched in the face!

A lot of people (including in this thread) seem to have this idea that art is about realism. The more a piece of art, or its components, bear a resemblance to reality, or the more technically difficult the methods involved in its execution, the more worthy it supposedly becomes as "true" art.

But this is totally missing the forest for the trees. Art is ultimately about indulging in a perceptual experience. The true value of art is that it can do this not only by stimulating our senses in satisfying ways that are already familiar to us, but more so than this, art can fundamentally change the very way in which we perceive reality. Now it should be clear that in many cases even the definition of what constitute aesthetic beauty is fluid and often learned, as a result aesthetics become inseparably linked with the perception altering aspect of art.

This is what made the Renaissance artists truly great, not just more realistic looking pictures, but the shift in perception that allowed the realism to be seen. The invention of perspective is probably the best example and is such a fundamental shift we take it for granted today that perceiving it is not an innate ability but learned. As an example, people from cultures lacking contact with the modern world do not see realism in photography the way we do, they see what is actually in front of them: a flat surface with colourful smudges.

Realism has been done, it is fairly well established in the realm of the familiar. Many artists have moved on seeking new ways to open up and challenge our perceptions. It shouldn't come as a surprise that without foundation or context, the viewer sees nothing more than some "colourful smudges" in modern art.

This ability to make new things visible to us, is what makes art arguably as important to advancing our society as engineering or some other more "respectable" vocation.

All of this is not to say the world of art doesn't have its share of pretenders or rich people more interested in using art as display tokens of their status, rather than an actual interest in its meaning. However, it's very easy to succumb to the allure of denouncing anything we don't understand as therefore having no value.

I don't think anyone here will claim that art is about realism. And I think "indulging in a perceptual experience" is an absolutely brilliant definition of art.

The problem is that a lot of modern art, which includes some of the pieces in TFA, fails that definition as well because it relies too much on insider context. Art that is designed to be "understood" in a way that requires a 5-page explanation to someone not familiar with ideas and trends known only to people in the modern art industry is not a "perceptual experience", it's a riddle game with a very limited target audience.

Truly great art may have such aspects as well, but they take a backseat of the "perceptual experience" aspect, which makes it recognizable as art to almost everyone, even of they don't understand everything the artist did.

Stellar post.

You're not completely correct when you say realism has been done. First of realism is alive and well today, but it's presence is diminished for good reason, most notably the camera. Nothing has changed the face of art quite like the invention of the camera, a great example of technology's transformative influence on culture.

The camera actually has told us a lot of unexpected things about "what is art?" e.g. Objectivity is a lie, accurate representation alone is worthless (the snapshot is not art unless the artist says so), representation is boring, there are no "beautiful things", etc.

Indeed, I didn't mean to suggest realism is no longer an interesting art form. It is certainly well established, and perhaps this is a testament to the fact it has plenty to offer. I was simply attempting to bring across that many artists are more interested in less familiar uncharted territory in which to push the boundaries of new exciting ideas.

PROTIP: not everything you find in a gallery labeled as "art" is necessarily GOOD art.

PROTIP: Your idea of what makes for "good" art may not coincide with someone else's.

I just came home from the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. I hung out and listened to this year's judges talking about their decision process. Some pieces were unanimous decisions, some were the subject of arguments, some went in the show because everyone had a strongly REVOLTED reaction to them. Art's a complicated thing.

> Art's a complicated thing.

No it's not. There are only 2 kinds of art: the one you like and the one you don't.

Except that EVERYONE has a dog in that fight, and it seems to be different for just about everyone. That's the fascinating thing about it. When you take away the labels (who made it or the period in which it was created) peoples tastes seem almost arbitrary.

Taken from a larger point of view, it's incredibly complex. Particularly when it gets all tangled up with societies social systems that rely on art to identify cultural similarities and social patterns. After all, every middle schooler knows you better like insert band X or else you're a loser.

I guess a lot of people feel intimidated that some others are "staring at this with one hand on their chins and super serious expressions", yeah, they probably have reasons to process it longer, but in the end it still boils down to the viewer's relation with the subject. Don't "get" it? Just move on.

As a hacker, I think you'd benefit from spending some time appreciating art.

Good art (i.e. NOT Tracey Emin) challenges and rewards; it can

- expand your views beyond just coding

- challenge your opinions of yourself and humanity

- reward you for spotting complex references/patterns

- reward you for "solving" the meaning

- stimulate you purely by being visually beautiful

- make you sad/happy/joyous/nostalgic etc

- bring a new understanding viewpoint of important subject - especially politics, humanity

- make you laugh

- inspire you

- relax you… at worst if it's crap and you're staring at a wall for 3 mins, such a meditative break from work is good for you

I'd like to write a lot more about this (I've been contemplating "Introducing Modern Art for Hackers" post/series for a while) - @ me on twitter (same username as HN) if you think it'd be worth it.

EDIT: Three quick examples of accessible artists that give you much of the above: Antony Gormley, Jeremy Dellar, Gerhard Richter.

The art world is where the bleeding edge of culture can be found. Most of the cultural trends that are commonplace today have origins in the art world. The reason why art is hard to understand by pretty much everyone is that it usually disregards practicality in its original form, and then eventually overtime those same ideas are fused with a more practical viewpoint which brings it into the mainstream for the masses.

In some ways you could view it similar to the bleeding edge of scientific discoveries in that similarly many don't initially know what to do with them. Eventually overtime those discoveries are applied and brought to the masses through some form of productization.

>The art world is where the bleeding edge of culture can be found. Most of the cultural trends that are commonplace today have origins in the art world.

Citation? I was there for (at least one corner of) the start of the current steampunk trend; to the best of my knowledge modern art() had nothing to do with it. Can you give me some examples of cultural trends and their modern-art precursors?

() In the sense that's being talked about here; a good number of those involved were people who painted or drew

I unfortunately don't know much about steampunk but I think I probably wasn't specific enough. There are a number of sub-groups in the art world and I was more referring about that larger group rather than just those that practice modern art that are usually seen in hoity-toity galleries.

For example the whole flash mob stuff got moving originally through performance artists trying to innovate. The underground music scene is another great one in that most of the stuff that gets integrated into the mainstream originally originated from niches of independents far removed from commercial music. Interactive artists probably don't get nearly enough attention by the HN crowd - a lot of them have been experimenting with all sorts of stuff. I can remember 5-10 years back some artists experimenting with peoples movement and technology - somewhat like rudimentary version of kinect.

Art, especially modern art is very contextual. Warhol's grocery carton sculptures were created during the golden era of advertising and globalization of trade, for example.

Art is also very subjective. Some like simplicity, some like complexity. Some like clarity, some like stories and implicit context. Some like subdued colors, some like saturated hues.

This makes art very complicated. That is why art history exist.

It is alleged that the CIA sought to influence Western art, coordinating the bankrolling/support of artists (including Warhol if I remember correctly) that represented a depoliticized vision of art. A potential cultural/intellectual enemy of capitalism was neutered by the transformation of institutionally championed art into a game of conceptual accounting rather than reflection on the human condition.


Sure , it's known that the CIA gave money to the Ford Foundation who then gave donations to various literary magazines, art reviews, and visual arts enterprises during the Cold War. It took decades for this to come out, although it was long suspected. "We" needed some bona fide art with an accompanying criticsl rationale to balance that of the Soviets.

One can interpret the whole ethos of the New York School of the postwar years in this way. Heroic individuals like Jackson Pollack striking out and defining whole genres of art, total opposite of the dreary collective approach of the Soviets.

This does not make the art invalid, suspect, or whatever. It should challenge us to look beyond the canonical figures, and to maintain an independent perspective on their work.

bad art is very contextual

Much like how a bad joke need to be explained and people ignore and get annoyed by bad elevator music. But, feel free to listen to that used car salesman selling that just like new 1971 pinto.

No…all art is very contextual.

Picasso's most famous work, Guernica, has many contexts to which it can be interpreted—not least of which the Spanish Civil War, upon which it is a meditation. Yet, for me, the only context that matters is that I think that Picasso's Cubist period (of which Guernica is a part) is a horrible waste of his talent, which is much better demonstrated in his blue period.

Basically, I don't care for Cubist work. Inconsistent, I know, because I happen to love the Surrealism in Dalí's work.

I think that Guernica transcends it's medium and genre. It still affects me as a political and moral statement more than anything. (I actually like a lot of cubism, but then, I'm an animator.)

My favorite story about Guernica, no idea if it's true or not, concerns the time when Picasso was living in Paris during the German occupation. The Gestapo like to visit his studio and harass him, but he was just a bit too internationally famous for them to just eliminate him.

One visit the SS guy was walking around, berating Picasso about his degenerate art when he came across a postcard of Guernica. (At that time the painting had an international reputation and was being held in America for safe keeping.)

The Gestapo guy picked up the postcard and shook it at Picasso and asked, "Did you do this?"

To which Picasso replied, "Oh no, you did."

I read it on the internet and heard it on TV, so it must be a true story.

Edit: Here's Simon Schama telling the story on a BBC documentary on art: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVycXNUh6YU

You just edited the post but at 30ft wide I was a bit skeptic about anyone "shaking" Guernica at Picasso :-)

I originally had it as a "print" but the Schama story had it as a post card. My post always pointed out the painting was in New York.

Art is just like any other type of human creative activity. There are various genres of it and no one is going to like everything.

Saying that you don't like something or don't understand something is cool. No one likes or understands everything.

Most art has a narrative behind it and to really understand what the artist is about you do have to know that narrative. Now a lot of older art, or art designed for a purely visual experience can become disassociated from its narrative and still appreciated. Or we can bring a new narrative to it.

This is not a new thing. It's always been that way in art. A lot of old art is appreciated for aspects that would confuse or even outrage its creators. (Also, a lot of old "junk" or popular art is now appreciated when in its day it was considered throwaway and trivial.)

Most people don't really care about the political situation in France in the mid 19th century. At least not the extent that they pick sides. But we can still appreciate Daumier's satiric political prints because we bring a new narrative to it. We can see ourselves and our current situations in it.

A lot of modern art is about art and the whole process of communication, perception, and expression. As such, the narrative can get pretty self referential and abstract. Recursive to a high degree. (I'll admit, after too many iterations, I start to loose interest myself.)

One way to look at a lot of modern art is to understand that it operates a bit like satire, only the without the joke aspect. Though not always. A lot of it is actually pretty funny if you can follow the conceit. Whether this is interesting to you or worth the effort is a personal choice or preference. Another way to look at some modern art is to approach it like jazz. It is artist riffing on themes and ideas that other artists have done. Again, a knowledge of the works being referenced is usually helpful.

No one said liking art was going to be easy.

But don't automatically assume that because someone else likes it, they aren't sincere or are chumps.

Edit: It just occurred to me that possibly the best way to explain art to the Hacker News crowd is to say that art is like hacking. Hacking perception. Hacking expression. Hacking communication. It doesn't have to have a point, though it might. You do it because you can, because you want to, or because you need to. Or, possibly the most fun, because you shouldn't.

From the engineers prospective, I understand the reason for what you are saying.

However, I've always made an effort to exercise the left side of my brain for balance. I played cello for a decade in childhood and toured Europe; currently, I compete in salsa performance (after having been the most lead-footed lame dancer four years ago).

What I've learned is that expressing my creativity allows for introspection. The expression of oneself through music, art, dance, etc. culminates like the completion a programming project, albeit using a different set of skills. While the extrospective nature of art galleries and concerts is exciting as an artist, it more provides a denouement of ones introspection as a project draws to a close.

Making this realization allows you to enjoy galleries and concerts more. It doesn't have to do with what is produced. These expressions of self allow you a direct route into the thoughts and feelings of the artist, and suddenly the question becomes 'why' more so than 'what.'

Heading back to 'hacking,' the most successful engineers, scientists, and programmers I know balanced the technical and the creative, and the latter allowed for approaching a project from a unique perspective.

My comments and arguments may sound abstract, but I do not present them as fact. I just request that you keep an open mind - do not view 'different' as inferior; instead, view it with an open mind.

As a european I find it funny that you associate touring europe with exercising your left brain. I don't mean that maliciously I just find it funny.

I was just trying to express that I didn't play alone in my basement. The trip was actually through a US State Department program.

That art seems boring to me. But 2001 was boring to me until I knew what went into the model work for the spaceships. I'm not sure I could appreciate this art if I studied art, but I'd be willing to try. This is what I usually think of when I think art: http://mkr.deviantart.com/favourites/

Maybe the author is going after the wrong kind of art. Not all of it needs a manual.

If Glen Coco (The author) never "got" art I'm not sure why he devoted so much of his life to it. I felt like this article was a farce.

I've often contemplated writing a blog post titled "Art analysis for the uninitiated". If you'd be interested please let me know.

Some analysis from an art student:

1st piece with the flowers: This looks to be an homage to still life paintings. Still lifes are about the cycle of life; Birth, Life, and Death. Seems pretty straightforward to me but then again I'm "initiated".

2nd piece with the woman in the desert: I couldn't tell you exactly what the artist was looking to portray but to debunk the "how quickly they'd be skipping over this photo if it was in their mom's holiday snapshots" line, I'd assume that is exactly the point. See Duchamp's Urinal fountain for more along this idea of "things out of traditional context".

the 4th piece (film): Art is either done without reason or with specific reason. The chairs, the screen and the video all have a reason for being the way that they are. It's your choice to interpret this but don't dismiss what the artist is saying because you are scared to "look like a twat".

I can go on and on but I think I've made my point. This has meaning. It may not be valuable to you but then again no one forced you to view this art.

>>I felt like this article was a farce.

Oh, HN. You take everything so seriously. It's VICE!

I'm sorry if I sound like an art snob but he looks to just be milking the common view that "modern art is dumb/stupid/no talent/i'm not cool enough" for no reason. He just seems to be whining for whining's sake. See his other articles about "giving art another chance". He's not looking to think or allow for expression in any form. He just wants to whine that people like to think abstractly and he thinks it's dumb. To each is own.

It makes me wonder if the piece itself is art: designed to provoke and inspire defense, similar to Boal's invisible theater...

p.s. Of course, Dadaists were doing it on purpose: gosh, I love that movement. The fur-covered cup may be my favorite piece of art ever.

This is a very old article. He did a follow-up piece last year: http://www.vice.com/read/frieze-fair-trying-to-get-art

It's good to see that the irony of VICE has been largely lost on the HN crowd here as we discuss what makes "good" art. Haha.

He just did this piece too: http://www.vice.com/read/giving-art-a-chance-to-defend-itsel...

I'm starting to think he just likes to bash the idea of people expressing themselves in any way shape or form. His guide provided thoughtful insight and he just continued to have the "Holier-than-thou/na-na-nah-not-listening" attitude throughout.

In order to comply with Godwin's law I just want to recommend the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degenerate_art

I have heard it argued that the fact he was in favor of realism in art had the opposite effect on the rest of the world who wanted to create as much distance as possible. Which is possibly the strongest invocation of Godwin's law to date...

PS: A few artists and art historians have mentioned that with the decline of the patronage system few people would pay for art that took a log time to create. And with the invention of photo's artists needed to create a steady stream of original works with minimal effort. Thus, modern art with a focus on emotions that side steps the need for a lot of time on any one piece.

I personally believe art's purpose is to create and distribute beauty. By extension, a secondary purpose would be to distribute that beauty to the masses, and to further increase the "net beauty" of the world, if you will.

In no way, shape, or form is "My cunt is wet with fear" beautiful. This is simply an artist trying to be shocking and radical, but without the courage to actually do so in a meaningful way, is simply couching it in "art".

I would argue that much of modern art (not to be confused with abstract art) is simply an excuse for the artists to be ridiculous without reprimand. If you look at the art of da Vinci, or Raphael, or even some modern artists (One could argue John Mayer's skill with a guitar constitutes art) they did not need to be shocking to have an impact- their work stood on its own.*

That, I guess, would be the crux of the matter. All these other comments explaining that we don't get the "context" or that we simply need to "understand the background" are more or less re-iterating the foolishness found in The Emperor's New Clothes. Art is meant to stand alone. The Mona Lisa does not require context to appreciate it's nuance of color, and the skill with which the expression is painted. Andy Warhol's (in?)famous Campbell's Soup Cans can be lauded on their symmetry and juxtaposition of color alone, while incorporating the mundane into the abstract. The Sistine Chapel can be admired simply by the scale and breadth of the murals within, not excluding the skill with which they were painted, or the beautiful imagery. I've even had non-religious friends admire it more than my religious ones.

One cannot simply say that "you don't get it". Beauty does not need "to be got". Beauty is inherent, and all perspective simply does is skew the appreciation of the beauty. I don't have to like Picasso to appreciate it, just as I don't have to like jazz to appreciate the beauty in syncopation. Even if you do not agree with me, we can all concur that true art will stand the test of time. So I ask you, do you see people talking about this exhibit 20 years from now?

*This is not to say that bodies of work cannot heighten appreciation, or lend further enlightenment upon the individual works, however a broken bridge, a looped video, a sentence set in neon and various pots placed on pedestals does not constitute a cohesive body of work.

> I personally believe art's purpose is to create and distribute beauty.

With that definition, yes, "my cunt is wet with fear" would not qualify as art. However, there are a variety of definitions of art. Look at Tolstoy - he says something is art if there's an emotional link between the audience and the artist, or at least, that an art piece "affected" a viewer. In that definition, the emotive reaction of the "my cunt is wet with fear piece" (one of disgust and confusion) could qualify it as art.

I'm not sure that art has to create beauty. I can understand why a statue of Jesus submerged in piss is art (it makes a statement and is intended to shock and disgust), but flowerpots on pedestals doesn't evoke any emotion aside from disdain for people who consider it art.

Beauty has a strong cultural component, it is not simply 'inherent'. Does this mean something considered art in one culture might not be considered art in another?

Art is like programming. The objective is to abstract the essence of something, and re-represent that in some other medium.

There are different degrees of that - obviously modern art attempts to represent the essence much more abstractly than, say, impressionism. And some artists accomplish this better than others (in fact only a very few do it really well - the 100x engineer theory applies to artists as well). But as with programming, there is a logic to all of it.

In fact, if you look at the history of Art, the progression appears to be from less abstract to more abstract. Probably because it's harder to do well, and takes time and experience for techniques like Cubism to emerge.

But once you start looking at all art from that framework, it starts making a lot more sense.

Hi. Amateur writer here. In my opinion, there's no such thing as "getting" art.

Why? There's a lot of differing definitions of art, but the one I like the most is Tolstoy's: art is about creating an emotional connection between the artist and the viewer [1].

Abstract art is made with this minimalist principle in mind - that one does not need to be realistic or even confined within the limitations of conventional artistic styles to develop an emotional connection with a viewer. That is, the viewer doesn't need to "understand" or compare a piece to reality to have an emotion from it.

For the most part, I think that classical art is enjoyed by those without an artistic background because there's at least an appreciation for the time and mastery invested into each piece. However, many people mistakenly believe that this appreciation is "getting" art. After all, you think "wow, that must have taken forever" when you see the Sistine Chapel.

However, that's just one emotion art can give you and it's a mistake to limit art to that. It's this belief that caused pieces that are potted plants on pedestals or red squares on large canvases to be alienating - "dude, I/my five-year-old could have done that!"

So let me put it this way - there's no such thing as "getting" art. Either it made you feel something or it didn't.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art%3F

> I think that classical art is enjoyed by those without an artistic background because there's at least an appreciation for the time and mastery invested into each piece.

Really? I'm a non-artist and I find all that old stuff (pre Turner I guess) extremely boring. How many frikking paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus do I have to endure. They all look the same to me, same even with the Dutch masters fruit and skulls. (Wow, how interesting, a pear. Not.)

OTOH, maybe if I had some education I would appreciate the historical significance (see, she's raising her left pinky? That was a snub to the patron)

I also think that something fails to be art when it is not intended to illicit an emotion reaction from others. Perhaps many of the artists in that exhibit chose things that gave emotion to themselves and made no attempt to create empathy in others. Or maybe they were going after a small subset of the audience - who knows?

I disagree. Especially with art where I know the artist, I get where they are coming from. I can appreciate their intention, their insight, their craft.

That's distinct from the feeling, and just as valuable to me.

Art is expression and communication. Some get touched by the message, some don't. If some people like to pay big bucks for art, just let them.

Some might say Tracey Emin is a bad artist. But I think here message is very clear: pain from being raped and losing 2 kids. It's a sad message.

Like Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid) I like to say: "Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time.".

I'm still not convinced that art hasn't turned into some kind of long con or practical joke that's gone entirely too far.

We already know what art is, it's paintings of horses.

A few years back I was visiting MNCARS (Madrid) with a friend of mine who had no understanding of art whatsoever. He didn’t like my decision to visit the museum and I could tell he felt a bit uncomfortable. So I told him we should try something of an experiment. We would choose a painting, stare it for a while and then exchange opinions. And that was what we did, we chose a large painting and after watching it for a couple of minutes I asked him how he felt about it. “It makes me feel unease” he told me. “I don’t know why but it makes me sad, frustrated, in despair. I just want to take my eyes away”.

The painting was Picasso’s Guernica . Years after my friend told me that this single event had a significant impact on his life.

So my opinion is that if art needs explaining then it’s not art.

Art is incredibly subjective, but a gallery opening is potentially the worst place to experience art. You are socially obliged to look at each piece, not just scan past the ones you don't think appeal to you (which is easy to do at a museum or online).

It is art because it is in a gallery. Also I think it is not the single pictures that are the art in this example. The art is the whole thing: people looking at nonsensical pictures wondering if they are art.

Reactions like that article are exactly what that kind of art wants to provoke.

Not that I personally have a nerve for it...

Also it reminds me about an analysis of the popularity of football that I read yesterday: football is popular because it is irrelevant. You can get high on emotions without any side effects on your real life. Maybe some "art" servers the same kind of purpose. The article also states that football is approaching the popularity of "weather" as a conversation topic.

Art is just communication.

The thing that sets art apart from mundane examples of communication (such as perhaps instructions for a tax form) is that art typically is evocative of emotions and feelings. Or perhaps complex thoughts that must be arrived at indirectly.

Art is really no more complicated than that. But there is so many different ways to achieve communication through different forms. Sometimes people are prone to over-simplify art, or to try to make art objective, or to try to make a firm boundary between "high art" and mundane art, but none of that is possible. Art is inter-personal, and can mean different things to different people. Guernica, for example, could have a different impact depending on ones personal exposure to warfare and violence. And that of course means that trying to put in place objective standards about subjective communication is fool-hardy at best, as is trying to create some sort of ranking.

You don't have to like all art and it's fine if not everyone likes the art you like.

It's fascinating to me that the same applies to cuisine and we accept it just fine. Some people like sushi, some people don't, some people like steak, some people are vegetarians. Art is the same way. Liking some types of art may make you appear more sophisticated in some circles (such as liking red wine and salmon vs twinkies and big macs) but in the end it's all just personal preference.

Most contemporary artists works need to be appreciated as a whole, not as isolated pieces. The author here looks at trees but misses the forest.

Most people look at art as if they are portfolio pieces in dribbble.com. (Hmm, I like this icon, Hmm, I don't like that color). But art does not merely reproduce the beauty of forms, instead, it gives language to the "soul" so that it may speak.

Protip: Keep an open mind.

> Most contemporary artists works need to be appreciated as a whole, not as isolated pieces

In other words, demonstrating one's affinity (or non-affinity) to a particular group becomes more important than demonstrating individual skills/virtuosity. Nietzsche (whom so many contemporary artists adore, btw) would have some harsh words on such herd mentality.

I was referring to the critiques in the article (e.g. dismissing the works one by one, instead of looking at the retrospective as a whole.)

But you raise an interesting point. I'm not sure if groups form because of herd mentality, or if there are parallels in perceiving the modern world. It's hard to say.

If I remember correctly, the early Nietzsche (in Birth of Tradegy) discussed the Dionynsian ideal of an artist -- which in his spiritual ecstasy he turns himself into a work of art. It's a very modern concept, in some sense expressed in Tracey Emin's work.

(Disclaimer: I personally like the individualistic part of Nietzsche's philosophy more than his love for the Dionysian). Nietzsche wrote The Birth of Tradegy back when he was under huge Wagnerian influence (an influence he later renounced), and the duality he introduced there between the Apollonian rationality and the Dionysian irrationality basically gave ammunition to the postmodernism movement. That said, although I do think that mysticism/spiritualism has a place in human experience, it is tautologically absurd to rely on it as a guide to areas that are better explored using a rational mind. There are many other ways to look at art; to bring up one example, one could look at art as an attempt at naming that which hitherto remained unnamed, which would place art into the rational realm (although more into the periphery of it than into the center). If I could read German, I would be incredibly interested to read Wilamowitz-Mollendorf attack on "The Birth of Tragedy" (infamous for the fact that it nearly ended Nietzsche's career) because I came believe that the difference between early Nietzsche and a charlatan may be more subtle than many realize.

Lots of good thoughts here. Thanks for sharing.

I like your example of art as naming the unnamed. It's similar to Paul Klee's "art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible".

I don't think rational/irrational are two separate realms. Personally I believe the totality of "existence" is an open system - so you seek connections of what you know with a rational mind, and you push the boundaries of what you don't know using intuition.

(And no, I'm not quoting Rumsfeld)

That "Protip:" thing is really condescending and irritating.

I don't understand how ordinary language can't give language to the soul so that it may speak. Especially if what the soul wants to say is something like "I am hungry."

Apologies. It doesn't sound right indeed. What I meant is that it takes a certain mindset to appreciate art.

Not sure what you mean by "ordinary" language though. If you want to express hunger in a way that is not indifferent, how would you say it?

Emin's famous "unmade bed" is actually very ordinary. But when you see it in the exhibition (not a photo), it says something interesting (to me) about privacy and modern life, that even a long essay cannot express.

In contrast, a "retina" ipad icon may look extraordinary, but it doesn't tell me anything interesting.

To me, that's the difference between art and design. Just a thought.

I don't "get" Vice's articles.

Vice occasionally has some good stuff, but this is pretty vapid. Most of the art world is crap. Most of anything is crap. Not a recent development.

Most of their written stuff I came across was some rather shallow critiques with a few f-bombs here and there, like they pretend they don't care but makes it look like they care too much.

I liked their 'Vice guide to...' travel documentaries though.

Yeah, I enjoyed them a lot years ago but it seems like they could be in a bit of a rut. Their travel documentaries are indeed pretty great.

Being flippant about contemporary art is about as easy as it gets. "Hey, look, this Rothko idiot just put a bunch of red on a canvas. What a tool."

Perhaps I don't 'get' VICE.

(edit) although having said that, art openings are one of my least favourite things imaginable. I just don't blog about them afterwards.

Vice magazine is a curious beast, aspiring somewhere intellectually higher than Maxim or FHM but more casual and less stuffy than GQ.

But for any geeks/intelectual types (most HN'ers I'd assume) it's not going to push your boundaries given that it's having to aim at a some-what mass-market appeal.

As it goes, I still find some of it to an enjoyable and thought provoking read at times

if you're buying art and putting it on display in your home - don't think about the narrative of the artist. think about the narrative the buyer might have had, when he saw the picture. I believe most people who spend a lot of money do so because they want to express something about themselves.

I think an oft overlooked point is the distinction between art and good art. "Is this art?" is a boring, answered questioned. "Is this good art?" is what everyone is actually interested in answering, but seems to confuse it with the former.

Yes, art is whatever you want it to be. As soon as someone intends something to be art, then it is so. But that gives it no higher status than anything else. However, a good piece of art usually is interesting, elicits emotion, and enriches the consumer. These are fairly subjective terms but they can still be roughly gauged within the context of the culture.

Anytime someone asks, "Is this art?", just say, "Yes, of course it is, and it is good/bad art because of x/y/z." Don't let that question distract you from what is actually at hand, rather than semantics.

I can't claim to 'get' art, but I absolutely love beauty. Some art is beautiful. Other art sucks. I think the key is to find and appreciate things that you consider beautiful and ignore all the critics, trust fund collectors, and scenesters...

Banksy's film "Exit through the gift shop" explored this argument well I though, indeed took it to the next meta-level and asked "how can you rip-off a modern artist's work?".


I watched this weekend. And is a perfect form of critics on how easily is for people say and think that 'this is art', 'this is not', 'this is genius'. The scene when Mr. Brainwash is selling the arts is amazing. People call him and ask for the prices and he is like " The can with colors? 24.000$, The Elvis with a toy: 18000$" And after he says to the interviewer : " I'ts like gold, you look to the piece and say a price. And people will pay for it."

For me, the best way to understand art is to compare it directly with music (and the comparison holds very well, as music is a form of art).

Think about pop music, and your feelings towards it. Many of my peers think that much of pop music is usually a bunch of crap and hardly ever listen to the radio (myself included). People love to proclaim which music is 'the best' and which music 'sucks', and they also love to argue about it endlessly. But if you look at this from a logical standpoint, you are a dog chasing your own tail if you want to argue about music opinions. You are pitting opinion against opinion, and there is nothing concrete to support either side, which makes it an utterly stupid and useless argument to have.

Let's add some logic to the music argument, then, to actually make it productive. Here's a good metric - which musician has the most fans and makes the most money off their music. If this is the metric you are viewing it from, you could most certainly say that pop is technically the "best" music out there, then prove it with numbers. And there would be no debating it.

But I bet there are a lot of people squirming to disagree with me at this point. And they wouldn't be wrong. Perhaps popularity isn't the metric that defines the word "best". In fact, the word "best" is a stupid word to use in arguments overall. Just replace that with "most popular", "most lucrative", or "my personal favorite", and we have an argument that can actually be carried out in a civil manner and solidly proven.

The words "good" and "best" ALWAYS mean "in my opinion, good" and "in my opinion, the best". And like music, art is all about opinions. You can call anything art, and you can call anything crap. If you can convince enough people to think your art is "good", it will then likely become more popular and lucrative. This part of it is all about psychology, and taking advantage of people and their emotions.

My personal opinion about art is that it is a piece that evokes emotion in the viewer and sends some message about the world that the artist is trying to get across. The "better" in my opinion the art is, the higher the percentage of viewers get this message, and the stronger it resonates with them.

Hope this helps...

To get art, you need to see the intention.

Agreed, and it's also integral to the question of what is and isn't art.

An informative read is The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe (yes, that white suit wearing writer). It's a fairly short book, and written from personal experience in the art world.

He talks about the evolution of art toward something that can only be appreciated if you know the theory behind it, and also about the interplay of the (poor) artist and the (rich) patron and the psychological aspects of what the patron it buying (often: they get to be an "insider", with the whole notion of being an insider being something that the artist has constructed.)

I've seen the bottom piece in person - the city on fire with the two people flinching from it.

It is absolutely fantastic.

I have no such belief that the rest of this 'show' illuminates anything in the human spirit except foulness...

note: if you read one part of this, read the last paragraph.

"I paint objects as I think them not as I see them." - Pablo Picasso "Art is what you can get away with." - Andy Warhol

I do not buy the "this isn't art, I can do this. art requires skill" train of thought. firstly, if we appreciate skill then we are not appreciating art. we are appreciating a craft. to appreciate art we must appreciate creativity. who's the artist: the engineer or the architect? the engineer has more skill, but i'd say the architect.

Secondly, let's assume that the "art requires skill" argument is correct. hence, a white painting is not art. but then what's the converse. is photorealistic painting (when a painting looks as though it were a photograph) the best art? because it contains the best skill at imitating reality? because I would say Michelangelo or Rembrandt are far superior to any photorealistic painter (try to name one).

Lastly, here's an interesting spin on modern art: it has a greater effect on you than regular art does. You've probably had a lot of conversations about modern art but little about real art. And it has a greater emotional effect on people (generally anger or disdain) than regular art, which usually leads to boredom. After all, I bet there are tons of blog posts on modern art like this one. I doubt there are many on the Old Masters. Modern art challenges us, makes us think more, and make use talk more.

>is photorealistic painting (when a painting looks as though it were a photograph) the best art? because it contains the best skill at imitating reality?

Imitating reality is not the only skill. I can look at e.g. Seurat and see that it takes more skill to produce something that looks like that than to do a photorealistic version of the same scene.

>Lastly, here's an interesting spin on modern art: it has a greater effect on you than regular art does. You've probably had a lot of conversations about modern art but little about real art. And it has a greater emotional effect on people (generally anger or disdain) than regular art, which usually leads to boredom

Sounds exactly like trolls on the internet.

If art required craft, that would not imply that art was reducible to craft. I don't even know where you get the premise that art and craft must be mutually exclusive.

I don't see why an engineer cannot be an artist, particularly if everything is art.

Also, a lot of modern art is philosophical in nature. It pushes the boundaries on the definition of what is art? Of course, this started over a hundred years ago, so by now the boundaries have been pushed pretty far, resulting in stuff like this.

That kind of reminds me of this:


What makes a guy who draws blobs or squares on a canvas his ENTIRE career, sell paintings for a million dollars while another guy who draws blobs or squares is never heard from? Is it really all about the end product, or is it more about the relationships? And if it's the latter, then what is "artistic" about the paintings when it's about knowing the right people at the right time?

Vice Magazine is a troll.

Tracey Emin is a troll.

Don't waste your life looking at art you don't like.

The "dilemma of the palette", I grapple with it constantly. if you never develop a palette for something, you never have to spend the money on "the good stuff". Applies to scotch, wine, beer, cigars, and food, among other things.

Of course, appreciating some of these things has some social benefits. And of course, in each such case, you can just fake it.

Peter Bagge made a nice little comic on his view of modern art:


For me, art is what ever I say it is. It is irrelevant to me what other people think. If I find art in something, then to me it is art. That should be the same for every one else. If you find art in something, who the hell am I to tell you you are wrong? My opinion should be irrelevant to every one else. Nice if we think the same, but not necessary. No one should be allowed to definitively define art. It is personal.

Anything without appropriate context is hard to "get."

Think of how often you have to explain something to someone when they react unfavorably. The problem with the pieces in this collection is that they are lazy. They don't come from a sense of expression; they use shock value to get their effect, and the result is often met with hostility.

I had a similar reaction when I saw a fluorescent light on the wall as a piece in the Met in NYC.

This is just Maddox's "I am better than your kids" remixed for 20-something gallery hoppers.

As a (somewhat off-topic) aside, I notice that every picture in the article seems to be slightly askew, and generally by the same angle. Can anybody tell me if there is a reason for this, or is it just an affectation of the photographer?

I went to design school, I visited Art Basil. Agree++

Seriously, maybe it's because I'm really a hacker that was interested in design but "Art" as in the starving/gallery kind is 99% crap - 1% mind blowing.

Whatever people choose as their monuments of highest value reflect directly on what sort of world they want to live in.

Very good read. And, btw:

"Art is anything you can get away with."

Or, in other words, it's about making money out of crap, sometimes literally.

If creativity were anything but random someone would have figured out the algorithm by now - Dilbert

This thread is great modern art

I like the way you think.

News flash: most art, like most things in general, is not very good. Film at 11.

There's no art but the artist.

Art is simple. It exists to decorate the walls of rich people. It's been that way for thousands of years. I'm not very rich, but I have some art around the place. It's pretty awesome.

The problem is that a lot of these artists don't get art. They are confused about their role in life, and they go round wasting their time making things that rich people wouldn't want on their walls. And that's just pointless and sad.

It's still true if you enlarge your conception of decoration a bit. For the most part, curated art shows exist as 'life adornment' for the privileged. Bask in the glow of talented or beautiful people, chew on a few radical ideas, but above all go to amazing parties.

The artists that I respect try hard to subvert that system or exist outside it. They produce street art, ephemeral or illegal installations, billboard liberations, surreal events, art that is miles and miles away from populated places, things that aren't obviously art but look more like technology, and so on. I think my favorite art-thing of the past decade was Swoon's Swimming Cities, where she lashed together boats made of artfully arranged junk and floated down rivers with a motley crew of performers.

Of course this kind of art can be commoditized too, but it's more resistant.

What's it called when poor people put it on the wall?




PROTIP: Tracey Emin is a Professor at the Royal Academy. It's art that a lot of the art world considers "good art".

This Emin person has gained tons of attention by displays so ridiculous that people thought they must be brilliant since no one had thought of doing something so utterly devoid of talent before.

From the Wikipedia article:

"In 1999 she was a Turner Prize nominee and exhibited My Bed — an installation, consisting of her own unmade dirty bed with used condoms and blood-stained underwear."

And engineers are supposed to be the scruffy, smelly disgusting masses of humanity.

The scene represented a point of serious depression (contemplating suicide) and realisation/rebirth for the artist. Some might see it and think of dirty engineers or needing to clean up. Others might see that a bed can be a site for pleasure, pain, love, resentment, physical activity, rest, birth and death.

Each to their own. Some may see weeds growing in cracks on the side of the road and think it looks messy and needs poison. I always see the evolution of life, incredible ways that dog-eat-dog life in a godless world can see some measure of success against the odds and think about how a weed may be different to different people. (Then I poison it.)


"The name 'Stuckism' was coined in January 1999 by Charles Thomson in response to a poem read to him several times by Billy Childish. In it, Childish recites that his former girlfriend, Tracey Emin had said he was 'stuck! stuck! stuck!' with his art, poetry and music."


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